Farm to Table: Bell Book & Candle
Growing fresh produce and herbs in one of the world’s most populous and expensive cities takes inspiration, innovation, and vision. Fortunately, NYC chef John Mooney’s recipe for success includes all three, which is why the West Village’s Bell, Book & Candle should be on your go-to list. Jeff Walters explains how BB &C is able to provide fresh, sustainable produce all year long.
‘Responsibly sourced’ is a term that forward-thinking Chef John Mooney chef has been saying for years.
Saying it, however, is one thing. Putting it into practice in America’s most expensive and populous city is quite another.
By using aeroponic towers on his restaurant’s roof in New York City’s West Village, Mooney is taking responsibly sourced produce to new heights.
Mooney and partner Mick O’Sullivan supply up to 90 per cent of the seasonally grown produce used by their business in aeroponic towers on the rooftop of their New York City restaurant.
The restaurant is called Bell Book & Candle and is named after the 1958 movie of the same title starring James Stewart and many other well-known actors.
Located in the street-level basement of a 100-year-old-plus building, the entrance can easily be overlooked.
However, if you look for the small sign with the blue letters ‘BB &C’ and follow the short set of stairs, you will find yourself inside a restaurant and bar with surprisingly modern décor.
Mooney and O’Sullivan got the rooftop garden idea from Tim Blanks, founder and CEO of Future Growing, while touring a local farmers’ market with Blanks in Orlando, Florida, in 2008. Blanks sold them on the idea of a fast grow cycle, limited pest problems, organic produce, and water conservation well enough that Mooney and O’Sullivan were ready to start building their rooftop garden that very same day.
“Using dead space on the rooftop only makes sense,” says Mooney. With real estate at a premium, he adds, the only option for space is straight up.
Since then, they have used solar-powered aeroponic towers to grow produce for their restaurant and have never looked back. According to Mooney, seasonal produce is what works the best because of the changing seasons, and the menu reflects that.
From spring salads in March to entire entrees made with squash in September and later, there are some wonderful, fresh meals available year-round.
The herbs and produce grown are so plentiful that they must be grown in stages so that the options can be there for a full menu almost all year. (Most of the garden’s lettuce strains will finish in less than two months from seed, compared to soil where it takes a full three months to grow.)
The produce starts as seedlings that are planted in a soilless medium such as rockwool. Then, once sprouted and strong, they are transplanted to one of the restaurant’s 60 aeroponic towers.
Each of BB&C’s towers are six feet tall, with up to 20 growing slots on top of a nutrient water reservoir. The towers are all connected via water lines with an internal built-in float device that shuts off the intake once the reservoir is full. This lets the nutrient-rich water go on to the next tower.
A small solar-powered pump is needed to move water to the larger tank, which is higher and uses gravity to feed the towers. That pump, however, is the tower’s only point of energy consumption.
The towers receive three minutes of watering time every twelve minutes. The water is fed into the top of the towers and, just like a shower head, sprayed inside the tower for roots to absorb. Outside, the towers are open to the elements, so ladybugs and netting are used for pest control.
The rooftop garden is located up six flights of narrow stairs, which makes it difficult to move heavy things such as bags of soil around. Also, since the building is more than 100 years old, adding too much extra weight to the roof is not recommended.
As a result, a small pulley system is employed to raise and lower either buckets or large trays from the rooftop to the kitchen window below, eliminating the need carry items up and down those stairs when something from the rooftop is needed.
Renovating the old building took some time, thought, and talent, but once complete, Bell Book & Candle opened to rave reviews and outstanding customer support. With their ability to provide sustainable produce, Mooney and O’Sullivan have done what others in large cities have only dreamt of.
Mooney is well-known in the culinary world and has received numerous awards for his ability to not only to provide gourmet meals, but also for his forward-thinking business ideas such as Bell Book & Candle’s rooftop garden.For his efforts, the visionary chef received the Best Hotel Chefs award by the James Beard Foundation in 2011. The foundation honors leaders in the culinary world that makes America’s food culture more diverse and sustainable.
At Bell Book & Candle, Mooney and O’Sullivan have created not only a successful restaurant, they have created a sustainable rooftop garden that is ecofriendly and preferred by customers.
Dubbed the Garden of Earthly Delights, this rooftop success story will become “the way America grows produce,” claims Mooney.
For more information on Bell Book & Candle, visit bbandcnyc.com.