Tucked near the stacks inside the University of Winnipeg library, promise grows.
At least that's Ben Kramer's hope. Come winter, the executive chef of Diversity Foods, envisions this now-dormant greenhouse overflowing with herbs and leafy greens ripe for the picking." This has the potential to actually produce food in a sustainable way," Kramer says. "From our perspective, why wouldn't we?"
Chaise Café and Lounge chef Jason Sopel prepares to harvest jalapeños grown on the deck of the St. Boniface restaurant. (Robin Summerfield)
He is one of several Winnipeg chefs and restaurateurs growing cilantro, basil, mint and lettuce and other greens in-house to use in their kitchens year round.
The freshly harvested ingredients taste better and eliminate or reduce the need for importing the same ingredients from far-off locales like Hawaii, California and Mexico, they say.
That's exactly why Johnny Kien had Saigon Jon's, his Vietnamese eatery on Pembina Highway, outfitted with an Urban Cultivator since day one. Inside the kitchen, he grows Thai Basil, mint and cilantro in the upright hydroponic garden, which looks like a double-wide fridge.
"I like that we can support ourselves with it and also have fresh product," Kien says.
The grower is an almost constant source of herbs used in bahn mi subs and the rice and noodle bowls served at Saigon Jon's.
As your own producer, it also eliminates any uncertainty of availability or break in supply of herbs, he says. (Kien will outfit his upcoming second location, located near IKEA, with a hydroponic garden.)
Come winter this hydroponic garden will be full of house-grown herbs, says Chaise Café and Lounge owner Shea Ritchie. (Robin Summerfield)
All summer, lavender, basil, rosemary, mint, jalapenos and tomatoes grew in planters on the patio at Chaise Café and Lounge. Before the snow flies, the St. Boniface restaurant's basement hydroponic garden will pick up the slack, producing herbs for the winter.
"When we need anything it's in our basement or out our back door," says chef Jason Sopel.
"The number one thing is freshness, to have fresh, quality ingredients," adds owner Shea Ritchie.
Back at the University of Winnipeg greenhouse, Ben Kramer is ready to put on his garden gloves in the old greenhouse, which was replaced by a new facility on campus. But first he needs approval from the university before trying to successfully grow ingredients for campus restaurants.
As Kramer says: "It's an experiment, so we'll see what we can do."