Gar­den fresh

Restau­rants with veg­etable gar­dens that en­sure a sup­ply of fresh pro­duce are the in-thing in the US.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ENVIRONMENT - By MICHAEL J. CRUMB

Restau­rants with their own veg­etable gar­dens are the inthing in the United States.

GAR­DENS have been named the hottest trend in Amer­i­can restau­rants this year as more chefs in­volved with the move­ment to eat lo­cal food de­cide to grow their own toma­toes, herbs and other pro­duce.

A third of the 2,000 chefs sur­veyed by the US Na­tional Res­tau­rant As­so­ci­a­tion named gar­dens the top trend. Chris Moyer, who leads sus­tain­abil­ity pro­grammes for the group, said it costs restau­rants less to grow their own pro­duce than to buy it else­where and have it shipped. It also gives them more con­trol over qual­ity, he said.

“It lets them of­fer things peo­ple are look­ing for, and a grow­ing num­ber of peo­ple are look­ing for that lo­cally-grown type of fare,” Moyer said.

The as­so­ci­a­tion does not track how many restau­rants have gar­dens, and its sur­vey did not ask chefs whether their restau­rants had a gar­den or had one planned.

Moyer said, how­ever, that in­de­pen­dent restau­rants tend to be the ones with gar­dens, be­cause they have the flex­i­bil­ity to ad­just their menus with what is in sea­son.

“When you walk into a chain (res­tau­rant), you ex­pect the same thing ev­ery time,” he said. “In­de­pen­dent op­er­a­tors don’t have the con­sis­tency fac­tor that chain restau­rants do, and that makes it eas­ier for them to im­ple­ment these gar­dens.”

The Blue Wa­ter Grill in Grand Rapids, Michi­gan, ex­panded its gar­den from about 90sqm last year to about 280sqm this year. It started mostly with toma­toes but has added squash, pep­pers, sweet corn, herbs and straw­ber­ries. The res­tau­rant also has 12 fruit trees, in­clud­ing pear and ap­ple.

“We just thought it was a great op­por­tu­nity that sup­ported do­ing what we wanted to do and that was to be a lo­cal res­tau­rant,” gen­eral man­ager Kevin Vos said.

The gar­den also adds a per­sonal touch. “A lot of times when we take cus­tomers for a gar­den tour, it starts with what we can do and, ‘Can we cook you some­thing spe­cial tonight?’ ” he said.

Larry Bertsch and his wife Diann are weekly guests at the Blue Wa­ter Grill. “It’s a ben­e­fit know­ing the food you’re eat­ing is grown 20 feet from the kitchen with­out pes­ti­cides or ar­ti­fi­cial fer­tilis­ers,” said Bertsch, 50.

The gar­den also makes a pleas­ant view from the res­tau­rant’s win­dows and pa­tios.

Moyer said most restau­rants start with small gar­dens in which they grow a few ba­sics, such as let­tuce, toma­toes, pep­pers and herbs. It is rare for them to grow ev­ery­thing they need be­cause weather lim­its the grow­ing sea­son and big gar­dens take up staff time and space few restau­rants can af­ford, he said.

Rob We­land, chef at Poste Moderne Brasserie in Washington DC, said his res­tau­rant planted its first gar­den six years ago in an out­side court­yard and it gets a lit­tle big­ger each year. This year, fruit trees were added.

About 20% of what the res­tau­rant uses is grown in the gar­den, which in­cludes 12 va­ri­eties of heirloom toma­toes, as­para­gus, basil, mint, tar­ragon, thyme and straw­ber­ries.

The res­tau­rant also gears pro­mo­tions around the gar­den, in­clud­ing Thurs­day events in which up to 15 peo­ple have a five-course meal pre­pared with pro­duce grown there.

Paul Lee opened the Winch­ester res­tau­rant in Grand Rapids, Michi­gan, 18 months ago and planted a gar­den for it on a va­cant lot not from far from his res­tau­rant this sum­mer.

“We made a com­mit­ment to do an ur­ban gar­den and with the move­ment to grow lo­cal, to shop lo­cal, it was just a nat­u­ral fit for us,” said Lee, who owns the res­tau­rant with his wife, Jes­sica.

The Winch­ester’s 370sqm gar­den pro­vided about 10% of the veg­eta­bles and herbs the res­tau­rant used this year, Lee said.

“Ev­ery­thing we take out we use to cre­ate din­ner spe­cials,” Lee said. “It’s been over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive.”

The Bell Book & Can­dle is sched­uled to be opened later this year in New York City, with 60% of the pro­duce it uses com­ing from 60 hy­dro­ponic tow­ers on the six-storey build­ing’s rooftop. Its owner and chef, John Mooney, is grow­ing more than 70 va­ri­eties of herbs, veg­eta­bles and fruits on the roof.

He said the move to­ward more restau­rants grow­ing their own pro­duce prob­a­bly is based on chefs’ de­sire to con­trol the in­gre­di­ents they use bet­ter.

“I be­lieve that when you and your staff care about your in­gre­di­ents from start to fin­ish they have a bet­ter ap­pre­ci­a­tion for it,” said Mooney, who also once owned a Florida res­tau­rant that had a 5ha gar­den. “It has a very pos­i­tive ef­fect on the guest ex­pe­ri­ence as well.” – AP

A va­ri­ety of veg­eta­bles and pep­pers picked from the gar­den at The Blue Wa­ter Grill in Grand Rapids, Michi­gan. The res­tau­rant’s head chef Michael-Pa­trick McCann in the veg­etable gar­den that has re­placed its land­scap­ing.

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