Chefs Farm Their Own for Freshest Tables

LAS VEGAS ( MainStreet) -- Talk about fresh. Greenmarkets across the country have long provided restaurants with a way to secure the freshest ingredients, but now cutting-edge chefs are going a step further by planting their own gardens, even creating their own farms on premises where they can secure the absolute freshest of the fresh.

TravelsinTaste has sought out some of the most intriguing true "farm to table" experiences.

In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., at 3030 Ocean at the Marriot ( MAR) Harbor Beach, Executive Chef Dean Max, is launching a garden. Max plans to incorporate the ingredients in 3030 Ocean's menu as well as to use it to educate staff about the importance of seasonality and using a product at its highest point of freshness. Max has vast experience in this arena; he prepares garden dinners at his restaurant the Brasserie in the Caymans. Meals there use vegetables only from the garden and fish only from the restaurant's boat.
The Brasserie in the Cayman Islands, run by Dean Max, is one of those with an on-site garden.

Chef Paula DaSilva planted her on-site vegetable garden at 1500° in Miami upon opening. Depending on the season, the garden features a variety of herbs and vegetables, even aloe, and the restaurant is now moving the garden closer to the restaurant to give diners a better view from the terrace. "I was thrilled to be able to have an on-site vegetable garden at 1500° so that I can deliver our diners a true farm-to-table experience. We tend to it daily and harvest at optimal times so that our dishes reflect the freshest ingredients," DaSilva says.

The Ocean House, one of New England's last grand hotels, re-opened its doors in June 2010 after a $140 million rebuild and restoration. Perched high on the bluffs in Watch Hill, R.I., guests enjoy sweeping view of the Atlantic Ocean, Montauk and Block Island. The restaurant uses herbs from the resort's herb garden and items from its farm. Chef Eric Haugen honed his farm-to-table cuisine here after working at such prestigious restaurants as Le Bernardin and apprenticing at Eleven Madison Park. "We flavor and garnish our cuisine with herbs from our own on-property herb garden and utilize our community garden to source fresh produce including tomatoes, eggplant, pole beans, peppers as well as summer and winter squash. We also collect honey from our own hives, located in the garden," Haugen says.

Niche in Geneva, Ill., started a farm last spring a few miles from the restaurant. It's the first restaurant in the area to grow and serve their very own, fresh food. "With the help of farmer Ted Reitcher running our sustainably grown farm just minutes from the restaurant, we literally just head to the farm when we run out of something. It couldn't be more fresh," said Serena Perdue, Niche's executive chef. "From heirloom tomatoes to Tuscan kale to rainbow chard, I have been able to incorporate some of the freshest ingredients I have ever worked with into the menu, and it makes a huge difference in the taste of the food."

In Chicago, Executive Chef Patrick Quakenbush at Zed 451 has a rooftop garden growing mint, apple mint, lemon balm, rosemary, basil, red hot chilis and jalapenos. "At Zed 451, we live and die by fresh and seasonal," Quakenbush says. "There is a very short season here in Chicago, so we take full advantage of the warm weather. Nothing better than fresh-picked mint in your mojito, lemon balm sorbet on a hot summer day and fresh-picked basil on your buratta-and-heirloom tomato salad."

In New Haven Conn., the owners of Claire's Corner Copia and Basta Trattoria have been growing their own produce for decades. Their gardens, Giardino del Mare, are near the beach and consist of 39 organic Earth Boxes and large raised beds. Additionally, the garden at 116 Crown provides the restaurant with a wide variety of produce used extensively on the menu and in signature cocktails. This spring they also harvested garlic from the restaurant's back patio to use on pizzettes and other delectables. Two beehives provide honey and cut comb for dishes and drinks, as well as pollination for the garden.

But the green market is not to be forgotten, says Executive Chef Shaun Hergatt at SHO Shaun Hergatt. "Never forget the greenmarket. Always support your local provider," he says. "If you are lucky enough to have your own garden, it can only enhance the experience of the restaurant."

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