For omnivores like us, the choices are many, and growing every day: Paleo, raw, pescatarian, macrobiotic, vegan, lacto ovo vegetarian, and many more. Michael Pollan gives us a simple answer: eat food, mostly plants, not too much.
The dialog around diet these days tends to revolve around science: nutrition, health and the implications of evolution and genetics. This is a good thing. But too often the aesthetic and social aspects of growing, harvesting, cooking and eating are left out of the equation.
Here at Battery Rooftop Garden we eat what’s here, when it’s ready, and generally as simply as possible. This means much gets eaten raw, often not more than a few feet away from the plant: blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and apples that tend to go from stem to mouth in a few seconds. When things are cooked, we keep it clean, roasting being the preferred house method for cooking beets, carrots, potatoes, eggplants and peppers. And, in a trend considered eccentric even by the most militant urban gardeners, we have – for the moment at least – banned dressings from salad, so as not to disguise the flavor of the various varieties of greens. You get the picture: a monastic sensibility, abjuring the decorative in a quest to discover the essential.
Occasionally, therefore, it is important to be reminded that cooking is one of mankind’s greatest arts, and greatest sources of pleasure. Although elaborate preparation can rarely rescue second-class ingredients, artful preparation can amplify exponentially the flavors — and thus pleasure — of food. And so I was reminded a few weeks ago, when Chef Howard Kalachnikoff from Gramercy Tavern again prepared a spectacular meal, mostly from rooftop ingredients, as a benefit for the superb charity, Just Food. Farmer Annie Novak, Chef Howard and his sous chefs spent an enjoyable late afternoon harvesting the September bounty from the roof: basil, mint, Malabar spinach, spinach, lettuces, carrots, beets, Japanese eggplants, radishes, kale, purple potatoes, sweet and hot peppers, tomatoes, grapes, Asian pears, European pears, apples. They laid out this bounty in the kitchen,
and from it created the following menu:
Rickshaw cocktail, made from BRTG basil
Rooftop greens garnished with rooftop oregano flowers
Roasted and raw carrots, dukkah, sherry gastrique, cremont cheese, pistachios, and roof top herbs
Boiled and creamed rooftop Malabar spinach, baked Filone chips, pickled rooftop Malabar stems, poached egg, shaved pecorino and shaved rooftop radishes
Rooftop kale shot, with rooftop mint, and granita and brunoise from rooftop apples
Ricotta tortellini, with blanched then sautéed rooftop purple potatoes, and rooftop basil pesto
Arctic char slowly cooked in smoked oil in the sous vide, with rooftop eggplant puree, glazed eggplant, sautéed rooftop peppers and slices of rooftop Asian pear
Rooftop mint ice cream and mint meringue wafers.
In food, as in music and all the other arts, it is high art that provides the pinnacle experience and moves civilization forward. We don’t need Wagner every night, but nor do we want to live without it.