Bell Book & Candle Restaurant Raises Urban Gardening to New Heights

Chef John Mooney’s reputation for introducing forward thinking culinary concepts throughout his career in the U.S. and abroad precedes him. It is no different at Bell Book & Candle (BB&C) restaurant, where he and partner Mick O’Sullivan created New York’s first rooftop vertical Aeroponic tower garden, dubbed the “Garden of Earthly Delights”. They set the bar for New York City’s urban gardening scene and took it to new heights with the special Future Growing vertical Aeroponic

Tower Garden system. Now in its 4th year in existence, they have harvested tons of produce from the rooftop space ranging from heirloom tomatoes to exotic red okra and earned the Sustainability Award from Star Chefs for 2011. The system has grown to now consist of 60 5-6 foot vertical towers generating bountiful rewards, other than the obvious, of providing fresh food for Chef Mooney that are used in both food and beverage menu items.

“When you’re talking about real estate in Manhattan or any large city, there’s only one direction you can go and that is up. Because space is at a premium, the same philosophy applies to gardening in the city. Our self-contained, automatic-watering vertical Aeroponic Tower Garden system provides multiple benefits for us, our customers and community,” says partner Mick O’Sullivan.

The benefits include:

  • Producing fresh, local organic, sustainable product with wellness benefits for customers
  • Cost efficiency - low production/maintenance costs and the end product is directly available
  • Heating and cooling benefits to the building and environment by harnessing and absorbing heat
  • More sustainable than conventional agriculture. Using dead rooftop space, 90% less land and up to 95% less water
  • Better space management than other urban gardens by using vertical height
  • No soil needed, roots are not exposed to pollutants and pests, organic pest-control
  • Efficient timed-mist nutrient delivery, all natural with no chemicals
  • Plants grow in less time than those grown in soil

The Aeroponically grown fresh vegetables and herbs in are incorporated into dishes and cocktails that change seasonally including:

  • Zucchini Blossoms stuffed with goat cheese and wild mushrooms, romesco sauce
  • House-made Burrata with wilted cherry tomatoes, rooftop basil; Rooftop Mixed Greens
  • Crisp Pork Belly and rooftop arugula with cherries, shaved fennel, sweet onion
  • Grilled & Roasted seasonal vegetables and cocktails

Partners John and Mick are about to bring the system to their new DC restaurant venture, but with one significant difference – there they will be using a state of the art greenhouse with an energy efficient ventilation system that works with nature, making it truly “controlled environment agriculture”.

In addition, BB&C’s gardening endeavor has connected them with their local community in several ways. For the past three years, they have hosted the 1st grade class from Greenwich Village’s PS 41 to help plant the lettuce in the beginning of each growing season and learn about gardening. Mooney also holds sustainability talks at Riverdale Community School for the 4th, 5th and 6th grades. Every summer they take on an intern from various urban agricultural programs around the city. Efforts like this emphasize John & Mick’s dedication to serving the freshest food possible.

“The food program at BB&C revolves around meeting consumer needs with local, organic, sustainable, and overall responsible procurement. The menu cycles are seasonal and heavily influenced on production from the aeroponic rooftop tower garden” says Chef John Mooney. “We find inspiration in the various regions of America and focus on the contemporary aspect and eclecticism of our country’s melting pot.”


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