In this almost-quarterly series, we explore the ways that farms and gardens can transform the culinary and community experience at the colleges, corporations, and specialty venues Bon Appétit Management Company serves.
Far above the bustling streets of Manhattan and many floors of priceless art and antiquities, Culinary Director Bill Telepan and the Bon Appétit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art team are tending to their garden.
With help from Brooklyn Grange, a garden design/build, landscaping, and urban farming company, the garden was established in 2021. Spanning 300 square feet across a rooftop with a stunning view of the New York skyline, the garden consists of a series of insulated raised beds. Brooklyn Grange provides full-service maintenance, including most planting and weeding, leaving Bill and the team to select the crops that are grown, and later, harvest them.
For Bill, a chef whose embrace of farm-to-table dining predates the locavore movement itself, the garden represents a culmination of his passion for hyper-local food. “As a kid, my father always kept a garden. It’s always in the back of my memory,” says Bill. “We would always pick ripe tomatoes and eat them straight with salt.” As a rising chef in New York’s food scene, Bill lived for a time in a 5th-floor walkup but didn’t let the stairs stop him from growing a small collection of herbs and vegetables in plastic pots. He dreamed of having the space for a more expansive garden.
Now Bill, Executive Sous Chef Ryan Pascullo, and other members of the team get to play in a veritable sandbox of culinary creativity, curating the many varieties of vegetables and herbs that Brooklyn Grange grows. This summer, 15 heirloom Canestrino Di Lucca tomato plants took center stage in the garden (the word is still out on whether Bill ate any with salt), along with eggplant, summer squash, and a bevy of herbs and flowers. And while the quantity of the harvest isn’t the goal, Bill and the team ensure that garden-grown ingredients find their way onto the Met’s menu in creative ways, even using marigolds to garnish a ceviche.
Interestingly, as the days grow colder and shorter in the fall, the concrete roof serves as a sort of heat island, prolonging the growing season and allowing Bill and the team to harvest tender herbs like basil along with the usual cold-hardy suspects of kohlrabi, kale, and broccoli rabe, much of which Bill recently pickled.
But no amount of radiated warmth can keep the garden alive all winter. Brooklyn Grange recently planted garlic, which will emerge as the soil warms in May. And as winter wind whips through the city, Bill and the team are dreaming up their spring garden, which will be expanded in the coming year to supply even more hyper-local ingredients to the Met’s kitchens.