Chefs name gardens top restaurant trend of 2010

The Associated Press
Monday, October 4, 2010; 4:58 PM

Gardens have been named the hottest trend in restaurants this year as more chefs involved with the eat local food movement decide to grow their own tomatoes, herbs and other produce.

A third of the 2,000 chefs surveyed by the National Restaurant Association named gardens the top trend. Chris Moyer, who leads sustainability programs for the group, said it costs restaurants less to grow their own produce than to buy it elsewhere and have it shipped. It also gives them more control over quality, he said.

"It lets them offer things people are looking for, and a growing number of people are looking for that locally grown type of fare," Moyer said.

The association doesn't track how many restaurants have gardens, and its survey didn't ask chefs whether their restaurant had a garden or had one planned.

But Moyer said independent restaurants tend to be the ones with gardens because they have the flexibility to adjust their menus with what's in season.

"When you walk into a chain, you expect the same thing every time," he said. "Independent operators don't have the consistency factor that chain restaurants do and that makes it easier for them to implement these gardens."

Rob Weland, chef at Poste Moderne Brasserie in Washington D.C., said his restaurant planted its first garden six years ago in an outside courtyard and it gets a little bigger each year. This year, fruit trees were added.

About 20 percent of what the restaurant uses is grown in the garden, which includes 12 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, asparagus, basil, mint, tarragon, thyme and strawberries.

The restaurant also gears promotions around the garden, including Thursday events in which up to 15 people have a five-course meal prepared with produce grown there.

The Blue Water Grill in Grand Rapids, Mich., expanded its garden from about 1,000 square feet last year to about 3,000 square feet this year. It started mostly with tomatoes but has added squash, peppers, sweet corn, herbs and strawberries. The restaurant also has 12 fruit trees, including pear and apple.

"We just thought it was a great opportunity that supported doing what we wanted to do and that was to be a local restaurant," general manager Kevin Vos said.

The garden also adds a personal touch, Vos said.

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