Benefits of a Downtown Chicago Marriott's Rooftop Garden and Beehives
By Frank Sanchez Executive Chef, Chicago Downtown Marriott | August 20, 2017
In late-March, we begin the seedling process of planting product that can be grown indoors, along with our rotating crop of micro-greens. Micro-greens have been an instrumental part of our operation because it gives us produce throughout the winter months. There's always the option to buy from hot houses locally and throughout the country, but when we can grow product ourselves, reduce our carbon footprint and create an interesting narrative for our hotel and restaurants, we do it.
The thought of buying items from the place I just left to garnish a plate does not appeal to me as a chef or as a steward of the planet. I would rather educate the customer about our growing operation and see the surprise and curiosity arise on their faces. This is, in-fact, one of the reasons we spend time planting and growing on-site. The aesthetics are very important to us as the rooftop garden can be seen from 36 of the hotel's 46 floors and from the fitness center, which is located on the same floor as the rooftop garden.
As we begin to plan for the seedlings, we keep the beauty of the garden a priority. That, along with the menu planning, is extremely important to us. Guests appreciate the visuals of the garden of course, but also like to know that there are crops growing in the facility. The neat rows and tight lines in the boxes represent that there is a plan in place and that our garden is an extension of our kitchen.
As for the break-down of our products, we grow about one-third of our own seedlings, one-third direct sow (planting in soil), and the rest are bought from organic nursery. This does a few things for us.
The seedlings we grow provide us with a great assortment of heirloom and unique seeds. These seeds give us an opportunity to experiment with growing product in Chicago's climate as well as utilize various seed banks for "native" seeds. Growing items that are "native" gives us yet another story to tell, but also makes us feel like we are giving back to the very land we are not growing in, if that makes sense.
Using direct sow gives us an opportunity to grow different, seasonal items. We can rotate between carrots, radishes, beets and other various seasonal root vegetables. This part of the rooftop garden is always evolving and is more fluid when it comes to menu options. We can have pickled root vegetables one week and the next it may be coriander pickled carrots or horseradish pickled turnips.