Sky-High Hotel Herbs and Vegetables

Good chefs know that freshly-picked herbs and vegetables taste better. But when you work in a kitchen on the 14th floor of a hotel in the middle of a big city this can be a challenge. In response, the Executive Chef of Toronto's Royal York Hotel came up with the solution: grow your own on the hotel's roof. And so he did: 17 raised boxes and a variety of planters now provide garnish and produce for summer recipes. All the herbs are organically grown using natural fertilizer and sheep manure. Being on a roof-top, there is full sun, little shelter from the wind, but also no bugs, so no insecticides are needed. Twelve apprentice chefs tend the garden, weeding and watering, so that they can reap the benefits. Lemon balm, edible pansies, thyme, lavender, chives and different kinds of basil are just a few of the many herbs flourishing in the custom-built four poster wooden beds. We tasted chocolate mint which really had a chocolate flavour and is used in crème brule. We also made an al fresco "sandwich" of garlic chives and cherry tomatoes with a splash of oregano: perfection. Italian red kidney beans, and sweet cherry tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, cayenne peppers, chile and cucumbers are also grown. Our tour was courtesy of the Green Tourism Association so we had the opportunity to meet the Chef, David Garcelon, who said that next year he hoped to have a Master Gardener introduce new crops to the heavenly garden. More and more patrons in the restaurants are asking for organically grown produce. But, he explained, the challenge is that home-grown vegetables look imperfect and when the public is paying for a fancy dinner this can be a problem. He has introduced Ontario-grown lamb and grass-fed beef to the menu. The hotel is part of the Fairmont Hotel chain which prides itself on its green credentials. It pioneered The Fairmont Green Partnership, introducing sustainable best practices to the hotel industry, and has a corporate commitment to minimizing their hotels' environmental impact.

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