If the kitchen staff of the Sofitel, the posh Center City hotel in the heart of Rittenhouse, run out of ingredients to make one of their signature salads or entrees, they don’t have to go far to replenish them.
They only need to take the service elevator about 15 floors up.
Courtesy of a partnership with Philadelphia preparatory school, Girard College, earlier this month the hotel unveiled its brand new rooftop garden complete with 3,000 pounds of soil ripe with recycled rainwater producing many of the vegetables and herbs found in the hotel’s pair of French-inspired eateries, Chez Colette and Liberté Lounge.
The completely sustainable garden features radishes, jalapenos, grape tomatoes, basil, beets and is complete with eight bee hives that, according to the Sofitel, are home to more than a half million bees exclusively producing fresh honey for the hotel. The partnership is fueled by executive chef Edward Hancock, who oversees the menu in both establishments, and powered by freshman students from Girard’s health and sciences classes.
In addition to working alongside the students to produce the garden, Hancock took it a step further to show them the fruits of their labor (pun intended). He gave the students a firsthand look in inside the kitchen, making many of the hotel’s signature dishes with the ingredients planted on the roof – in addition to dinner.
“It’s been a pleasure working with the students from Girard College and exchanging gardening knowledge with them,” Hancock said.
Angela Bauer, Sofitel’s general manager added:
“The garden is an example of how we use sustainable resources to provide food for our restaurants. It was a wonderful opportunity to invite this neighborhood school to participate in our gardening initiative.”
The beet salad ($12) on the Liberte’s lunch and dinner menu? Planted with care by Girard students. The carrots and watermelon radish in the braised short ribs ($24) or the fennel in the seared salmon ($24)? Yep, Girard.
But it doesn’t only extend to the plate. Many of the herbs are used to create signature cocktails, using locally sourced spirits. The aptly titled Rooftop Garden cocktail, which consists of Bluecoat Gin, uses basil and honey from the roof. The Lavender Martini? Vodka from Philadelphia Distilling paired with homemade lavender syrup.
“This has been an amazing experience to expose our ninth-grade health students to the sustainable urban gardening program of Sofitel’s rooftop, said Monet Anderson, a science teacher at Girard College. “Now, through this partnership, they have learned how gardening supplies a hotel’s food and beverage operations.”
It’s work Girard College already does within the towering walls of its sprawling campus, as the school is home to one of the largest urban gardens on a school campus in the city. With 25 in-ground plots and four fruit trees, Girard’s community garden produces about 1,500 pounds of produce a year, creating many of the meals for the campus, in addition to selling much of the produce at a weekly farm stand in the school’s Fairmount-based neighborhood.
This is perhaps the latest in a growing trend of area restaurants pairing with community gardens and greenhouses to serve up dishes provided by sustainable urban gardens. Earlier this month, Rocco Cima, owner of fresh food eateries, FUEL announced a pairing with celebrity chef Brian Duffy (DIY Network’s Date Plate, Spike TV’s Bar Rescue) to create 17 new menu additions – many of which are priced at $10 or less – sourced from a community greenhouse in North Philadelphia. Another city chain of restaurants, Marathon, has been one of the pioneers in this trend, sourcing much of its produce from an organic farm in the city that serves all six of its locations.
In June, Center City is scheduled to host its own pop-up urban food garden.
Farm for the City, an initiative by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, will create an interactive food awareness installation on Thomas Paine Plaza. Slated to run through the summer and into the fall months, Farm for the City plans to shed a light on food security, and show that urban agriculture can sustain many of the city neighborhoods.
And its restaurants.
URBAN GARDENING: BY THE NUMBERS
Number of pop-up gardens in Philadelphia. In addition to instructional guidance on sustainable growing, there’s a bar and routine entertainment at both the South Street (1438 South St.) and University City (36th and Filbert) locations.
The percentage of the world’s food source that’s grown in a city or urban-based setting, according to global restaurant consultants, Aaron Allen & Associates.
Number of urban farms and gardens spread throughout the city, according to the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.
Estimated pounds of fruit and vegetables, Farm for the City, an interactive food awareness installation to be housed this summer in the heart of Center City is expected to grow and donate to homeless nonprofit, Broad Street Ministry.
Pounds of produce Girard College grows annually that is used in many on-campus meals in addition to being sold each week at community farm stands in the city.