Design & Fashion

On the importance of urban gardens and growing your own food

By Mayssam Samaha

We’ve noticed the proliferation of urban vegetable gardens in Montreal these past few years. More and more chefs, restaurants, businesses, and entire neighbourhoods are choosing to grow some of their food in the heart of the urban jungle. We asked five professionals about the importance of finding a plot of soil in the heart of the city and growing one’s own food.

Fisun Ercan, chef/owner Restaurant Su and chef/co-owner BarBounya, Montreal
“This is the fourth year we do this. We took over Su’s rooftop to grow some of our vegetables and herbs. Even though it’s not enough to supply the restaurant, gardening is such a soothing activity and the psychological effect of watching the fruit of one’s labour blossom is priceless.”
Favourite thing to grow: Eggplants

Marc-André Royal, chef/owner Restaurant Le St-Urbain and La bête à pain, Montreal
“It’s out first year doing this. We’re actually renting a plot in Blainville and working with Les verts collectifs. We planted a few of our favourite things, including 100 tomato plants and 20 different kinds of vegetables and herbs. My cooks and I all put in time at the garden and the menu at Le St-Urbain reflects what we’re growing. It’s great to be able to control what goes on the plate.”
Favourite thing to grow: Sugar snap peas

William Cody, co-owner/co-chef/head gardener Restaurant Maïs, Montreal
“We like having the garden because it gives us control over what we grow. It also gives us access to produce that would be more difficult to get, like for example cilantro. We can use the first leaves when it starts growing, then around this time, we use the flowers, which are lovely and impossible to get anywhere. In a couple of weeks, we’ll also be using the green cilantro seeds, which are delicious.”
Favourite thing to grow: Tomatillos, watermelon

Chantal Côté, Corporate PR Manager Cirque du Soleil
“Our garden is part of the landscaping at the international headquarters of Cirque du Soleil in Montreal. We did not start a garden because we wanted to grow our own food, but because we wanted an original landscaping that would symbolize the organic structure of the company in the sense that it is ever-evolving. Constantly in motion with seasons, the look of the vegetable garden and the other gardens we have evolve just like the company. We plant peppers, squash, leeks, among others, and herbs like parsley and basil. Of course the harvest goes to prepare meals at the cafeteria, and any surplus is given to staff at the end of the season.”
Favourite thing to grow: We don’t really have a favourite, we simply grow a variety to have more options

David McMillan, chef/co-owner Joe Beef, Liverpool House and Le Vin Papillon restaurants, Montreal
“We’ve had the garden almost right from the start at Joe Beef. At the end of the day, that’s what makes the difference. All the restaurants around town have more or less the same suppliers, meaning the same ingredients. The products at our restaurants are completely different because they come from the garden. The garden is a big influence on the menu.”
Favourite thing to grow: The Ozette potato I grow in my garden at home

Marc-Antoine Dionne, kitchen coordinator, Restaurant Toqué!, Montreal
“This is the second year for our rooftop garden at Toqué! We started it for the obvious reasons of keeping in sync with Normand Laprise’s philosophy of having access to local and fresh produce; produce that is sometimes harvested 30 minutes before the start of service. We also use the garden for educational purposes. It allows the staff to realize the effort that goes into harvesting and teaches them respect for the products and producers we work with.”
Favourite thing to grow: We did a test and managed to grow a very small quantity of oyster mushrooms. It was amazing to see them grown since they’re very demanding.