Zagat: Bell Book And Candle Boasts Its Own Rooftop Garden
By: Michelle Park
Many people talk about “going local” these days, especially when it comes to eating. The Zagat Restaurant Guide has found a chef who is taking that concept to the next level by growing his own greenery in New York’s concrete jungle.
John Mooney has built an urban farm on the rooftop of his West Village restaurant, Bell Book and Candle. With a little help from modern technology, his hydroponic garden actually produces a significant portion of the fruits, vegetables and herbs that go straight to diners’ plates.
“I have all of my herbs, every herb imaginable, basically. I grow strawberries, watermelon, lettuces, chili peppers, cucumbers,” says Mooney. “None of this produce will ever see a refrigerator. It’s not bred for transport or storage, it’s only bred for the way it’s supposed to be consumed, eaten. You know, the way Mother Nature intended it.”
His changing harvest flavors the eatery’s cuisine, in what Zagat calls “upscale comfort food.”
“Menu planning revolves around what produce we have. I use what is the best available at the time,” says Mooney. “My object is not to buy in, it’s to use whatever I have up here.”
This green-thumbed chef enjoys being a part of the whole process.
“It’s interesting to have a head of lettuce that’s still living with roots attached, or tomatoes that are still on the vine that we just clipped right then,” says Mooney. “I like to see a watermelon or I like to come smell the perfume standing next to spearmint, things like that are inspiring. Also, for the staff, when we’ve nurtured our ingredients this way, I just feel there’s a greater sense of pride. A lot of work goes into it, so I think the final outcome should be a little more special to us. Hopefully that translates to the guests, to the experience in the restaurant.”
Bell Book and Candle is too new to be rated in the guide, but the online review suggests customers will pay a bit for the local produce, listing the cost as “E” for Expensive. Customers can graze on the rooftop fare in the “artwork-filled” dining room or by reserving the restaurant’s “secret” space.