Executive Chef Dana Hauser knows fresh food, and is committed to growing it as close to her kitchen as possible. When Hauser gained her prestigious culinary appointment at The Fairmont Waterfront hotel in 2012, she decided to convert the Vancouver hotel’s ornamental roof garden into a kitchen farm.
The idea of on-site production went over well with the international parent company Fairmont Hotel & Resorts, as select Fairmont hotels began cultivating fresh vegetables and herbs over 20 years ago. Today, edible rooftop gardens exist at several of the company’s locations in Canada, the US, and Singapore. As a matter of fact, in 1995 former Executive Chef Daryl Ngata and herbalist Elaine Stevens established The Fairmont Waterfront’s first food roof, in the same location where Hauser later built her rooftop kitchen farm.
Last summer I asked Hauser what crops occupy the roof of her hotel. She quickly rattled off, “Several varieties of heirloom tomatoes, turnips, carrots, red and white potatoes, leeks, edible flowers, several varieties of lettuces… arugula, sorrel, rhubarb, an assortment of herbs – especially rosemary, rosemary is my signature herb right now – basil, sage, thyme , oregano, and five or six varieties of basil. [We also grow] bay leaf trees, three figs are coming in next week, an apple tree, grapes, raspberries, and gooseberries.” What incredible variety! This is the first rooftop farm I’ve heard of that grows rhubarb, figs, and gooseberries – how utterly enchanting.
Hauser’s farm is only 2,100 square feet (0.05 acres), yet this well manicured space produces 10%-15% of the kitchen’s ingredients, according to Hauser’s estimates. The roof’s vegetables, herbs, and honey freshen the hotel’s two restaurants, in-room dining, and tea service offerings. The hotel additionally offers guests tours of the rooftop apiary, so they can see exactly where the honey comes from. Hauser’s chefs visit the roof daily to harvest herbs and check on crops. The ability to gauge ripeness and availability first-hand on a daily basis has reconnected Hauser and her chefs to their ingredients in a profound way. And they have a sense of humor about it, too. When I asked Hauser which rooftop-inspired dish stands out to her, she replied, “We do an heirloom tomato salad with fresh [rooftop] basil, buffalo mozzarella cheese, and 100 kilometer croutons.”
Have you visited a Fairmont Hotel & Resorts rooftop?