Rooftop gardens grow in popularity with Chicago chefs

September 23, 2011 9:42:52 AM PDT
Markethouse Executive Chef Scott Walton gets his hands dirty in his rooftop garden to get the freshest produce on his plates -- and make available space green and sustainable.

For the last few years, we've seen restaurants like Frontera Grill and Uncommon Ground turn their abandoned roofs into lush, viable gardens. The same holds true at one Streeterville hotel where the chef is prepping for this weekend's "chicago gourmet" by heading upstairs and getting his hands dirty.

Scott Walton spends most of his time in the kitchen. As the executive chef at Markethouse, inside the Doubletree Hotel, he realized that some of the hotel's unused space could be an opportunity.

"We had an empty space on the 5th floor of the hotel, they agreed to let us use it, so we started with six boxes and after three years its grown to 14," said Walton.

This month, he's been pulling everything from teardrop tomatoes to stark white carrots and tiny beets of all colors, which he'll use at the Chicago Gourmet event this weekend. He also holds a monthly class and dinner up here, focusing on one of those ingredients. His choices have become seemingly limitless.

"We're doing pole beans, cucumbers for our pickling, radishes, we have eggplant going right now, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, fennel..the list goes on and on," Walton said.

Once he picks what he needs, he heads to the kitchen to wash them off, then doesn't really need to do that much cooking. A simple sea scallop adds luxury to a three bean salad straight from his garden.. while assorted roasted beets hide beneath a canopy of frisee greens, sandwiched between eggs that have been boiled in beet juice, and a small knob of goat cheese. Those carrots can be roasted, but also shaved raw, served in a salad with radishes and greens, all from the garden. For Walton, it's a brief chance each day to connect with his ingredients and get his hands a little dirty.

"I think besides getting out of the kitchen an hour a day just to come up here and water and get away from the actual pace and the hectic, just to relax but, from knowing where the actual produce comes from, from where it starts to actually finishes.. most of these seeds were started in January, actually in my living room. It's very rewarding," he said.

Walton will be serving up his rooftop tastings at "Chicago Gourmet" on Sunday, from 3 to 5 p.m. at tasting pavilion 7. He'll also host his final rooftop cooking class of the season next Tuesday, focusing on tomatoes.

611 N Fairbanks Ct.

Produce coming from the rooftop:

Albino Beet
Chioggia Beet
Crapaudine Beet
Candy Stripes

India Jwala
Fish Pepper
Chinese 5 color
Chocolate Habanero
Thai finger

Danvers Half Long Carrot
Lunar White
White Belgian
Atomic Red

Chicago Gourmet Dish
East Coast Scallop, Markethouse Garden Beets, Nichols Radish, Blis Maple

    Upcoming Class Schedule (6:30 p.m.)
  • Tuesday, September 27: Tomatoes (last rooftop garden class)
  • Tuesday, October 11: Apples/cider
  • Tuesday, October 25: Pumpkins
  • Tuesday, November 8: Root vegetable soups
  • Tuesday, November 22: Thanksgiving dinner
  • Tuesday, December 13: Duck
  • Tuesday, December 27: New Year's

    Other rooftop gardens in Chicago:

  • Uncommon Ground
    1401 W. Devon Ave.
    (773) 929-3680

  • Browntrout
    4111 N. Lincoln Ave.
    (773) 472-4111

  • Frontera Grill
    445 North Clark Street
    (312) 661-1434

  • Lockwood
    17 E Monroe St
    (312) 917-3404

  • Carnivale
    702 W Fulton St
    (312) 850-5005

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