A little over a year ago, I discovered Tutti Toscani, a wonderful Italian bring your own bottle restaurant near me that I fell in love with instantly. The food is excellent, but what made me fall in love with the place was that around the patio of this New Jersey strip mall restaurant was an edible garden. During the gardening season, the restaurant grows its own herbs and a few other edible plants to use in its kitchen.

For a while now, restaurants have increasingly been sourcing their ingredients from nearby farms and touting their farm-to-fork credibility. A recent New York Times piece reported how many chefs now court local farmers for ingredients instead of ordering those ingredients from third-party suppliers. Restaurant patrons now check out where the ingredients on the menu originate from the web browser on their iPhones (I confess — I’ve done it).

Now, many restaurants are becoming even more local — hyper-local as some like to call it — by growing their own food in gardens attached to the restaurant like Tutti Toscani does or in gardens as close to the restaurant as they can get.

SFgate.com reports that in Napa Valley, Calif., restaurants are relying on their own local gardens for more and more of their restaurants’ ingredients. Their homegrown ingredients are going from seed-to-stove, and chefs and restaurant patrons love it.

French Laundry chef-owner Thomas Keller, whose restaurant has had a kitchen garden for years, loves the synergy that kitchen garden ingredients create between “the restaurant and the individuals in the restaurant, the young cooks, the chefs, everybody.”

To look out over the garden and know that the vegetables that you're working with that evening or that afternoon are coming from right across the street, were harvested that morning or that afternoon — it's an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and pride.
For restaurants that don’t have any open space for growing their own food, the innovative owners and chefs hit their roofs for growing space. At the Fountain Restaurant at Philadelphia’s Four Season’s Hotel, a rooftop garden grows beets, several kinds of oregano, tomatoes, string beans, edible flowers and more for the restaurant’s menu.

When I see that a restaurant is growing some of its own ingredients, participating in this seed-to-stove movement, it says to me that the quality of the food the restaurant serves is important. It’s harder work to grow and maintain a garden than it is to order ingredients from a supplier, but the results are worth it.

It’s the kitchen garden at Tutti Toscani that keeps me going back there from time to time. Okay, the really great food doesn’t hurt, either, but there are other Italian restaurants in my area with really great food, too. The kitchen garden sets the restaurant a little above some of the others in my opinion.

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