While a growing number of restaurants are featuring herb gardens, only a select few in the U.S. have added hydroponic or aeroponic growing systems. In April, Playa restaurant in West Hollywood, Calif., became the latest to add aeroponic Tower Gardens to its rooftop. With nearly 1,000 herb, lettuce, and pepper plants on the 6-feet-high Tower Gardens, Playa is able to supply most of its own produce. “Produce is very expensive, plus I wasn’t able to find certain Latin ingredients that I needed,” says John Rivera Sedlar, chef and co-owner of Playa, which features new urban Latin cuisine. Even with the restaurant’s initial investment in the growing system from Future Growing – which recycles the water used for the plants – Sedlar estimates that the restaurant saves between 65 percent and 85 percent on purchasing produce. Plus, Sedlar and the other Playa chefs enjoying maintaining and harvesting the plants, he says. Hydroponic and aeroponic gardens are on the rise at restaurants because chefs and restaurant owners want to provide the highest quality – and most local – ingredients to guests, says Doug Jacobs, founder and CEO of AMPS in New Orleans, which designs, builds, and operates hydroponic farms. “People want to know where their food is coming from and they want to support local. Local is quickly becoming the new ‘organic’, and is considered better than organic,” Jacobs says. Sedlar agrees. “Even organic food has to be boxed and put into a truck. This is instantaneous and highly nutritious,” he says. Chefs also say they are adding hydroponic tower gardens so they can use fresher and more flavorful herbs, grow plants faster than in regular gardens, and not have the dirt and mess of regular gardening. “Whenever you order herbs from purveyors, you don’t how long it has been since they were picked. If you pick it fresh and use it right away, you can taste the difference,” says Dominique Macquet, chef and owner of Dominique’s on Magazine in New Orleans, La., which opens in November. At the 180-seat Dominique’s on Magazine, the restaurant will feature a “garden room” with five hydroponic Tower Gardens. “There will be lounge chairs where guests can sip wine and champagne, and smell all these amazing herbs while they wait for their table,” Macquet says. The new restaurant also features a courtyard that has aeroponic growing systems (plants are grown in an air or mist environment without the use of soil) suspended from a brick wall and displayed inside over-sized picture frames. “Herbs will be growing out of them and we will have lights that shine on them, like giant paintings,” says Wendy Macquet, group sales manager for Dominique’s on Magazine. Dominique’s invested $5,000 for five, nine-foot Tower Gardens, which will produce 180 different herbs, habanero peppers, and other produce on a regular basis. John Mooney, co-owner and chef of Bell Book & Candle in New York, N.Y., agrees that the quality of hydroponic herbs grown in aeroponic gardens is higher than purchasing form purveyors. “You see the quality from start to finish and you control the whole process. You can clip herbs to order and have living lettuces grown to the size you need,” says Mooney. BB & C features 60 Tower Gardens on the rooftop of its eatery. As a nice side benefit, the aeroponic gardens set these restaurants apart from others. “We have received loads of publicity on this, and the publicity translates to the guest’s chair,” Mooney says. “We have gotten a lot of traction from the press, and guests coming in who want to know more about it,” Sedlar says.
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