When a Bon Appétit operation is part of a national park, the idea of an on-site garden takes on a whole new meaning.
For the Presidio Foods team in the Presidio of San Francisco, a 1,500-acre former military base now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, it was long a goal to better integrate the restaurant and catering experience with that of the park itself. So when Presidio Landship Steward Jean Koch reached out with the idea to partner in the revitalization of the Presidio’s numerous community gardens, the team jumped at the opportunity to help grow and share local ingredients that were Presidio grown.
The Presidio Foods team oversees three public restaurants — The Commissary, Arguello, and Transit — which, along with a catering arm, are operated in partnership with the Presidio Trust and Chef Traci Des Jardins. In 2018, members of the Presidio Foods team joined landship stewards and garden managers from the Trust to take ownership of a small plot to plant vegetables and herbs. Bon Appétit chefs have been involved since day one: they even helped clear the garden area and build the containers.
As the gardens have flourished, the Presidio Grown program has also blossomed. Each week, Jean sends the Bon Appétit chefs a list of what’s being harvested in the garden, so they can “order” ingredients for use in their kitchens. Last year, the chefs used more than 570 pounds of vegetables including arugula, cabbage, fava beans, and leeks; 132 pints of edible flowers such as broccoli flowers, fuchsia, and cilantro flowers; and 25 pounds of herbs, including rosemary, sorrel, shiso, and cilantro.
Presidio-grown ingredients can be found in dishes like Arguello’s famous pozole (a traditional Mexican soup made with hominy) featuring cabbage and cilantro, Transit’s baby kale salad and market pizza highlighting seasonal vegetables, and as garnishes in many of The Commissary’s seasonal cocktails. The freshly picked arugula, spinach, kale, and leafy greens are sought-after items for all of the Presidio Foods chefs.
The Presidio Foods team don’t just take from the gardens, they add to them, too. Through the Grounds to Ground program, the catering and Transit teams collect spent coffee grounds and filters to be picked up by the Trust’s sustainability team each week and transferred to the Presidio’s vermicompost pile for worms to digest into nutrient-rich worm castings, known as “black gold.” Such vermicompost increases the ability of soil to retain water, is up to 20 times richer than regular compost, and improves soil health by introducing beneficial microbes and bacteria. It’s distributed back to the community gardens in the Presidio, to help grow more vegetables. In the year after the program began, 8,500 pounds of coffee grounds were collected.
Resident District Manager Stacy Peoples is proud of how far the program has come: “We never dreamed that the gardens could have such a major impact on our restaurants,” she says. “It’s inspiring to see the weekly deliveries come in, to witness the incredible variety of what’s grown, and to watch our chefs pull inspiration from the garden ingredients daily.”