The Gardener’s Cottage is all about Lee Barty, but you would never know it and that’s the way she likes it. She has been there for 23 years now and likes to be the quiet person in the background, focusing on the food and the staff – some of whom have been with her for over 20 years. But her real passion is teaching and, without clients even realising it, this is what makes the difference.
Lee Barty came from farming stock in the Free State and then taught for ten years at Silwood Cookery School. About 25 years ago Cecil Michaelis had a wish for a job creation project as part of the Montebello project (http://www.montebello.co.za/). He wanted to take people off the street, train them and give them dignity and this was where Lee Barty came in. With her passion for teaching and food she created The Gardener’s Cottage. She decided to focus on what she calls naked food, which to her is less contrived and fussy, but of great quality. Originally this was a family project along with her son Jeremy – she was doing days and he was doing nights – but soon his other interests overtook and he is now focusing on producing ovens for township bakery –the wood-fired rockets ovens of Bread Revolutions.
Lee decided to continue in the daytime, with her now well-known breakfasts, teas and lunches. She is still teaching and she teaches by ingredients, so the week we spoke it was all about onions. Even after 23 years this is not a woman who rests on her laurels. They are now working on a mini-deli with items such as home-made mayo and Indian street curry in 500g packets. This will be called The Store and is being managed from a wendy house tucked next to the Gardener’s Cottage. For years she also resisted the idea of being known as a coffee shop, preferring the focus on food, but now as the culture changes they are serving Uber artisan coffee and Cortado has been added to the coffee menu.
Lee Barty feels that she has used her creativity to provide great atmosphere and ambiance. She loves dogs and children – both are welcome, although dogs have to stay out in the garden. She feels she owes her success to having good systems and loving taking on projects.