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Chef Gardens: A Trend Worth Embracing

Jennifer Woods
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​Debate all you want about the merits of bread pudding. Here's a trend we can all embrace: chef gardens.

They're popping up all over town, most recently on the rooftop of the downtown Phoenix Sheraton, on behalf of the hotel restaurant, District American Kitchen. This is no farm, true, but instead an impressive, large container garden, and it's happening at the largest conference hotel in the state. Color us impressed, particularly when we met the gracious and staid Chef de Cuisine Jay Boginske, who took us up to the roof. 

The garden was part of the plans from the beginning of this hotel, but it wouldn't have come to life the way it has without a partnership with Singh Farms. Singh Farms is known for their magnificent composting program, which District contributes to, and their beautiful farm in south Scottsdale. Singh Farms provides much of the produce at the hotel and restaurant but also the mind and labor to the rooftop garden, which shares its space with the new outdoor bar and seating area.

The garden is mainly a herb and micro-green garden but also contains featured seasonal plants like okra and cucumber, which get some IQF treatment and pickling to make it something to be enjoyed into the cooler months. They are completely self-sustained in chives, mint (chocolate, orange, spearmint), lemon balm, basil (Queen of Siam, purple), okra, lavender, rosemary, thyme, sage (regular and pineapple), microgreens, bay laurel, chiles, cherry tomatoes (almost), and a few I'm sure we forgot to list.

Chef Boginske encourages all his chefs to come to the garden and tend to the harvest to get close to the food that makes it into the cocktails, restaurant plates, conference buffets and in-room meals. Mostly in the form of herbs and micro-greens, as mentioned before, but he also says that they source locally and aim to get about 90% of their food from Arizona. This is not something you normally hear from a large hotel - you should ask them sometime about their other green programs at the hotel.

If you took away the slick modern hotel restaurant feel, and plopped the operations of District into some obscure renovated home neighborhood restaurant and gave it a clever name and some vintage furniture, you'd be hearing even more buzz about it. You just have to get over the whole conference hotel thing to see how neat this spot is -- they hang local artists work on the walls, have ample downtown parking, house an amazing pastry chef (Winnona Herr) who makes chocolate mint whoopie pies, and a Chef de Cusine completely respectful and appreciative for his situation at the restaurant. So, I guess, we can see why the rooftop garden has been a big focus at District, it represents so much of what they're doing downtown.

We know of many chef gardens around town, including: Joe's Farm Grill, The Parlor Pizzeria, BLT Steak, Cafe Zuzu, True Food Kitchen, Lon's, The House at Secret Garden, The Boulders, T. Cooks. Help us out, where else have you seen a chef garden?

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