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By Leslie Wu, senior contributing editor
MONTREAL—Chef Matthieu Saunier and his kitchen team at the InterContinental Montreal are going green with a new chef’s garden project on the roof of the hotel.
With 50 planting boxes containing organically grown vegetables and herbs, Saunier is nurturing nine varieties of tomatoes, chocolate and Moroccan mint, lettuce, black, purple and white eggplant and other pesticide-free herbs and greens for the hotel’s fine dining restaurant Osco!.
Saunier scoured the Jean Talon Market for seeds and plants for his pet project, asking advice from the farmers about growing and harvesting, he told CLN.
As this year is the first for the project, Saunier admits there were challenges in harvesting enough volume for the 100-seat restaurant. “One day we had enough zucchini flowers to do two plates worth of specials,” he laughed. “It was really funny, but now customers know to come early.”
Saunier has been using his hard-won produce sparingly, in items such as reduced beet juice and lemon thyme accompaniments to fish specials, or salads with ronde de Nice zucchini, cucumbers and a mix of different types of lettuce: batavian, nova verte, red and green oak leaf.
He hopes to expand the project next year to 100 boxes, and potentially hold tapas events in the garden rooftop. At the end of the season the team will prepare compost on the roof and use the soil for next spring. The composting project is part of the hotel’s Green Restaurant certification from the Green Restaurant Association.
Although the rooftop garden creates more work for the kitchen staff, reception has been positive, said Saunier. “The cooks love it. They see the evolution of the produce, and get to smell and touch it, getting back to nature.”
Even the garden’s late night watering requirements have turned into a team building event. “It’s like therapy,” said Saunier. “When it’s a tough day in the kitchen, at the end, you can go up to the roof to see the flowers and you immediately feel much better.”