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Growing fresh herbs: Surprising kitchen gardens of Canadian city chefs

Author: Canadian Living

Cooking School

Growing fresh herbs: Surprising kitchen gardens of Canadian city chefs

A growing number of Canadian chefs are taking eco-consciousness one step further by growing ingredients in their very own on-site gardens. While this has been a long-standing tradition in many of Canada’s rural restaurants and country inns, it’s now happening more and more in some unexpected, citified places.

Toronto taking herbs to new heights
Downtown Toronto’s landmark hotel, the Fairmont Royal York, doesn’t exactly conjure up images of green acres.  And yet, all the herbs used in their restaurants - rosemary, lavender, thyme, chives, basil, to name but a few - are grown on-site. Jean-Charles Dupoire, Chef de Cuisine at Royal York’s EPIC (seen in image above), says, “Every chef’s dream is to have his own herb garden and so we have created an oasis on the rooftop.” Perched atop 18 stories, this herb garden has superb access to plentiful waterfall and the sun’s rays—and even provides the hotel with numerous fruits and vegetables.  Executive Chef, David Garcelon, reminds city dwellers that herbs are the perfect way to start one’s own kitchen garden. “They need a lot of sun and water,” he admits, “but they’re easy to grow in pots and are great for apartment balconies.”

Rosemary, raspberries, and romaine at Calgary's Rouge
Rouge, just five minutes from bustling downtown Calgary, is another urban, organic-dining mecca. Chef Paul Rogalski agrees that a kitchen garden is a must. “We strongly believe in harvesting food as close to the moment of service  as possible, which in many cases means you’ll have to wait a couple of minutes longer for your menu item as we pick the herbs, lettuce, raspberries, tomatoes... In my opinion, there’s nothing better tasting than something that’s still warm from the sun!” While the garden at Rouge (seen in image at left) has dozens of varieties of herbs and edible flowers, Rogalski advises the novice gardener to start out slow. Choose easy-to-maintain plants “so that it doesn’t become a chore.” He recommends romaine, mint, dill, chives, and other tasty herbs that are “hearty enough in case you forget to water one day.”

Herbal oasis in urban Saskatoon
For the past 13 years, besides creating delicious food, Chef Remi Cousyn (seen in image at left) of Calories  has been tending (with the help of his mother-in-law, Judith Hutton) a bountiful plot of land nestled next to his Saskatoon bistro. Tarragon, sage, basil, cilantro, arugula, and calendula are a few of his preferred herbs; although, born in Provence, he especially loves thyme and rosemary. Menu favorites at Calories often feature home-grown produce: from a unique dressing made with nasturtium leaves, to a savoury potato-and-swiss-chard gratin. For the herb garden newbie Cousyn recommends perennials: “It’s a bit of a lazy pleasure to get plants the following year with very little effort!”
Page 1 of 2 - Chefs from Montreal and Vancouver on next page . . . You can “bet” it’s fresh in Montreal
The lush garden at Montreal’s Nuances is in the most unlikely location of all. Herbs, vegetables, edible flowers, and fruits all flourish on a sunny, sheltered, south-facing terrace of…  a casino! Although the growing season is brief in Quebec, they make the most of their organic produce when they can. Executive Chef Jean-Pierre Curtat (seen in image at left) believes in “respecting nature” by serving only seasonal cuisine. “Herbs are seasonal. We don’t want our dishes to taste like summer in a middle of a snowstorm for the same reason we don’t offer heavy, hot dishes on a warm summer day.”  To amateurs thinking of starting an herb garden, he advises “Go for it!”  What to plant? Chef Curtat points out that personal and cultural preferences should be considered:  “Can you ask Italians, for example, not to grow basil? Think about what you like to cook.” In his own home garden, he always includes fragrant lemon verbena which makes superb herbal teas.
All seasons bounty in B.C.
Far from the Quebecois wind-chill, the rooftop kitchen garden at the Waterfront Fairmont Hotel in balmy Vancouver provides Executive Chef Shannon Walsh-Wrightson with seasonal ingredients on a daily basis - year-round! Under his guidance, this green sanctuary in the middle of the city (seen in image at left, courtesy now produces more than 60 varieties of herbs, edible blooms and other vegetables, from sweet wild strawberries to heady lavender.  In a climate this agreeable, even the novice home gardener is guaranteed success!

Whatever the climate and wherever you live - even if you’re an avowed urbanite - remember that fresh herbs are a cinch to grow! And they’re as indispensable for the home cook as they are for the seasoned pro.

As Chef Curtat asserts, “Once you add some fresh herbs, your dish, however simple, will come to life!”

Let Canadian Living show you how to cook with fresh herbs in our 3-minute video. Click below!

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Cooking School

Growing fresh herbs: Surprising kitchen gardens of Canadian city chefs