Two top chefs leading the way in urban farming
City chefs are growing greens right in the middle of the concrete jungle – or even in the middle of their restaurant. These chefs are taking the ingredient-sourcing process directly into their own hands by farming their own fresh produce, thereby boosting sustainability as well as flavour.
We speak to two top chefs who are trailblazers of urban farming about their experience.
MICHEL ROUX Jr, Le Gavroche, London
This famous chef got involved with Growing Underground – which set up the world’s first underground farm – way back in 2013. The farm, located in an old war bunker 33metres under the pavement in Clapham, London, supplies Chef Michel’s much-loved and Michelin-starred French restaurant Le Gavroche with some of its greens.
“We use as much as we can, but Growing Underground’s production is still relatively small, so we can’t get everything we need from them. We use their micro herbs, which have an wonderfully intense flavour,” says Chef Michel. “There are real advantages to eating freshly picked ingredients which are delivered so quickly as they’re grown down the road!”
As customers increasingly want to know where their food comes from, provenance is becoming more and more important.
“Even in big cities, diners like the idea of eating locally produced food. Over the next 10 years, I believe we’re going to be looking at hyperlocal supplies, other than fish or meat, although within 50 years fish farms could be more land-based, and that offers us a better opportunity to control their growing environment, making it cleaner and safer.”
SIMON ROGAN, Roganic Hong Kong
When Chef Simon opened the Hong Kong outpost of his famed London hotspot he brought his on-site farm with him in the form of Evogro – a high-tech hydroponic system.
“There are 3 Evogro cabinets at the restaurant and we endeavour to plant our micro greens in succession to ensure there is a constant supply. The staple varieties are sunflower shoots, Mexican marigold and nasturtiums. We use additional varieties to complement our dishes such as mustard cress, beetroot and kale. For the varieties we do not grow in-house then we would turn to our inner-city farm partner,” says Chef Simon, who earned a Michelin star for Roganic Hong Kong within a year of its opening.
“Our UK restaurants have been an advocate for Evogro for a long time, so it made sense to bring that element to our Hong Kong site. On a more practical note, micro greens and edible flowers often don’t travel well – the longer the distance they have to travel, the more flavourless they become, so to optimise the flavour it makes sense to grow our own on site. Moreover, the Evogro cabinets make an interesting talking point and play an important role to help us to better deliver the ‘farm to table’ concept to our guests.”
Being the first restaurant to introduce the system to the Hong Kong hospitality market meant there were challenges.
“All the equipment, including growing medium and seeds, has to be directly imported from the UK. Then there is the layout of the restaurant to be considered – we need to select the best location for the cabinets so they blend in with the rest of the space. That said, Evogro has been very accommodating throughout the initial journey, as well as the ongoing support. They even sent one of their technicians to Hong Kong to oversee the installation of the cabinets. It’s definitely been a worthwhile investment.”