Published September 14, 2012
As many chefs know, running a successful restaurant is hard enough, let alone growing or raising the mountains of fresh foods needed for delicious and memorable dishes.
Yet, you can’t throw a stalk of celery these days without hitting a restaurant that proudly proclaims the provenance of its homegrown or home raised ingredients.
Chefs across the country are increasingly taking matters – and seeds – into their own hands--growing their own ingredients delivered to you straight from a garden out back or, in some cases, a rooftop on high.
The effort is starting to yield serious results, with some eateries producing up to half of the produce themselves. Here's a selection of four restaurants whose owners have a particularly green thumb.
Husband and wife chef team Duskie Estes and John Stewart like pigs. They like them so much, they raise their own enormous Mangalistas and serve their delicious porky goodness in their Santa Rosa restaurant, Zazu, and take-out joint, Zazu on the River. You can even buy their Black Pig bacon by the pound right off the menu. The porcine-loving duo have run this sweet little Sonoma County spot for 10 years, and from the beginning have also grown much of what you wind up eating. Ingredients for dishes like Backyard Cucumber Gazpacho are taken from the backyard. In fact, their little garden got so big, they now have two full-time staff farmers – Milo Mitchel and Dylan Taube – who help them grow nearly five dozen types of organic vegetables, fruits, and herbs that supply an impressive 30 percent of the restaurant’s ingredients during high-season. Oh, and that chicken or duck or turkey or rabbit you’re eating? They raised that, too.
Chef Paul Berglund has gotten national attention for the restaurant’s Scandinavia-by-way-of-Minnesota menu and helping to bring the Twin Cities’ culinary heritage back to the fore. Opened just over a year ago, the Bachelor Farmer is also part of a broader trend: the urban rooftop grower. “We had a consultant come in named Paula Westmoreland who’s doing a lot of urban gardens here in the Twin Cities,” says Berglund about how he and partners --brother Eric and Andrew Dayton -- are getting the greens and other vegetables growing at the restaurant. “The first year was a little rocky; we started in the middle of the July heat wave, so that wasn’t the right time to plant the garden. This year, though, we got off on right foot," Berglund says. Right now, about a quarter of the dishes on the menu feature foods grown from on high, including radishes, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, beets, lettuce, turnips, and herbs. The summer salad, for example, has rooftop Bibb lettuces topped with aged goat cheese and heirloom tomatoes with anchovy aioli. “It’s a pretty great experience for the kitchen staff to be able to be hands-on with food grown right above us and it’s a really neat experience for the diner to be able to sit down to a meal knowing that their food was harvested from the roof within the past day,” says Berglund. “The freshness of it really translates.”
Since it opened more than 35 years ago, the Inn at Little Washington remains one of the most sought-after reservations in all the land (it takes them up to a year in advance, if that tells you something) due to chef/owner Patrick O’Connell’s great talents in the kitchen and devotion to good ingredients. O’Connell always maintained a small restaurant garden, but two years ago he started to think big. Now, he and on-staff professional farmer, Joneve Murphy, have devoted over a half acre of the inn’s land, as well as two greenhouses for pre- and post-season sprouting and growing, to a true working garden. The effort has paid off. At the height of the season, O’Connell is able to stock more than half of its produce right from the bounty that Murphy brings in, but it comes from no small efforts. Most of the year, Murphy works a seven-day week, save for her month-long respite during the dead of winter, and she constantly cycling from new plantings to harvesting what she put down in the weeks prior. “Last year, I harvested up until Christmas. Then I got back from my vacation in February and was harvesting micro-greens and radishes by mid-March.”
Henry’s Restaurant at the Buttermilk Inn, Milton, N.Y.
If you head to a place like the Buttermilk Inn and spa in Milton, N.Y., you might be dreaming mostly about the creature comforts that come in the form of high-thread-count linens and body-melting massages. But there’s no rest for the weary at Henry’s, the petite, on-site eatery run by Chef Chad Greer. The two-year-old Inn owns a 10-acre plot of land called Millstone Farms, where a whopping 50 percent of the veggies and fruits are gleaned during high summer season in dishes like the roasted quail salad with the farm’s own peaches, leeks, and arugula. This year they had a bumper crop of Swiss chard, kale, spinach, potatoes, multiple varieties of basil and heirloom tomatoes, squash, lettuce, and beans, as well as peaches and apples from the orchard, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries (often featured on the breakfast plates of overnight guests), as well as organic eggs from their own clucking heirloom chickens.