A (Short) Trip to Bountiful
Originally published in August 2008 in Toronto Life
As more and more restaurants grow their own, produce is going from farm to table in 60 seconds
Across the city, industrious chefs are getting their hands dirty, digging up back lots, hauling pecks of dirt to rooftops and tailoring crops to their gardens’ particular microclimate. Forget the 100-mile diet—the next frontier is the 50-metre meal.
THE DRAKE (
1150 Queen St. W., 416-531-5042)
The dirt: This spring, chef Anthony Rose took a hoe to the back lot, planting dandelion greens, radishes and peppers. To extend the growing season, he installed underground heating cables. “We also talked about putting chickens back there, but it’s illegal.” The dish: Dandelion stems from the garden, sautéed in a garlic-lemon sauce with anchovies served on toast ($10). The enemy: Raccoons. Rose is liberally sprinkling the soil with eggshells to keep them at bay. But those giant ring-tailed rats are unstoppable.
THE FAIRMONT ROYAL YORK (100 Front St. W., 416-368-2511)
The dirt: The rooftop garden is home to three beehives and nearly 50 herbs, fruits and veggies, including okra, alpine strawberries and four types of eggplants. Executive chef David Garcelon added four grapevines last summer (they grew a whopping nine feet). The dish: At Epic, chefs caramelize the precious vidal and cabernet franc grapes, plating them with prosciutto and greens ($15). The enemy: Marauding birds. Last year the vines produced only six tiny grapes, so Garcelon has put up nets to protect his first real harvest.
GEORGE (111C Queen St. E., 416-863-6006)
The dirt: Twenty tubs of lettuce, Barese cucumbers, red bird chilies, fava beans, zucchinis, strawberries and blueberries line the balcony above the courtyard. “What can I say, I’m Italian,” says chef Lorenzo Loseto. “Fresh produce shares equal billing with proteins.” The dish: Red bird chili tapenade and zucchini flower tempura served with Ontario Wagyu beef and a side of arugula ($24). The enemy: The sun. There’s no escaping the rays on the balcony. Restaurant staff have to dash upstairs to water the plants twice a day.