Some restaurants work very closely with farmers within a few hundred miles of the city to procure their produce and meats, but some chefs want to get even closer. Lockwood is getting into the urban gardening game with the opening of its own rooftop garden on the 25th floor of the Palmer House hotel.
Chef Greg Elliott, who worked at Brannan's in Calistoga, Calif., before coming back to Chicago, experienced first-hand what it was like to grow vegetables for his kitchen as well as source from farmers locally throughout Napa Valley. Elliott saw how much space the hotel had on the rooftop, and last winter, especially after hiring sous chef Valeria Benner, began planning the 2,000 square-foot rooftop garden. And the result has been encouragining to say the least.
"We've had an incredible amount of support from people throughout the hotel from all different departments," Elliott said. "When my cooks see we're putting in the extra time to grow some of our own products, it gains their interest and they respect it more."
So now Elliott, as well as the hotel's exec chef, Stephen Henry, are starting to use the many herbs and vegetables they're growing in dishes and will continue to add more as they create their summer menus. The garden is already producing a number of herbs like cilantro, parsley, chives, dill, marjoram, oregano and more and will vegetables including various chili peppers, heirloom carrots and tomatoes, radishes, sugar snap peas, sorrel greens, various lettuces, bell peppers and more, are starting to really sprout.
Elliot, who still sources about 90 percent of his produce from local farmers ("I've always been a huge supporter and will continue to do so," he said), will soon start creating a daily breakfast frittata using the vegetables and add two or three dishes to the dinner menu that will incorporate the rooftop produce, like a rooftop garden vegetable stew that'll be sourced daily, he said.
Future plans include adding beehives that will produce 20 to 40 gallons of honey annually and the estimated high-production levels are due to the hotel's close proximity to the gardens in Millennium Park. Elliott said they hope to continue growing through October and possibly November and may winterize the garden to create a greenhouse, but those plans are still up in the air.
"It's really just about stressing how important it is to keep it local, to support local farms and that we can also take it a step further and garden ourselves if you're blessed enough to have the space to do it," Elliott said. "If you have the opportunity to grow some of your own products, why not?"