Chicago Botanic Garden revamps kitchen program

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Chicago Botanic Garden is welcoming a revamped, locally-focused kitchen program. (WLS)

A trip to the bucolic grounds at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe usually means leisurely strolls and picturesque surroundings. But when hunger strikes, a completely revamped kitchen program now means something special as well.

"Went to more of a quick casual-style dining from what it was before, really focused on seasonal (ingredients), local when we can," said Chef Michael Kingsley. "As local as being able to pick from the garden here."

Not more than four minutes away, hundreds of different varieties of plants, herbs and vegetables are now being harvested from a four-acre plot, and then shuttled over to the kitchen.

"They can come out to the fruit and vegetable garden after lunch and they can see these plants growing in the garden," said Fruit and Vegetable Horticulturist Lisa Hilgenberg. "It's part of our mission, being able to take it from plate to garden, garden to plate is a way to deliver that message."

Salads are the most obvious form; like an all-natural chicken with apples, pecans, grapes and lettuce from the garden.

"We're getting rhubarbs, a lot of kales, the heartier greens," Kingsley said. "When summer comes around, spare no expense: heirloom tomatoes, great Carmen peppers."

A "super food salad" contains all kinds of healthy grains like red quinoa and kale as well as an assortment of berries. One in a series of flatbreads offers roasted peppers and homemade chicken sausage along with fresh mozzarella. Even the turkey sandwich is mindful, coming from nearby Harrison Farms; it's smoked on-site, then layered on a sturdy pretzel roll with Wisconsin cheese. Kingsley said having the garden so close to the kitchen makes menu planning easy.

"It's amazing," Kingsley said. "It's absolutely great; it's a chef's dream."

And as the seasons change, so will the menu. So over the next couple of weeks, expect things like stone fruits, summer squashes and berries - it's one of the best times of the year to eat or drink a homemade sangria.

Chicago Botanic Garden
1000 Lake Cook Rd., Glencoe
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