It's a thing at 50 Ocean in Delray Beach, which recently debuted its own aeroponic and hydroponic in-house gardening system that allows executive chef Joseph Bonavita to grow everything from root balls of herbs and microgreens to lettuces and spinach.
"We first saw these systems over two years ago at a food show in Chicago and thought it would make an interesting educational tool for our guests,” said Mark DeAtley, 50 Ocean’s general manager. "They could interact with the plants and even pick fresh strawberries right off the vine."
High-tech hydroponic farming has been around for decades. It's used in countries throughout the world, including Israel and Japan, allowing both families and businesses to grow produce under controlled conditions. Stateside, the aeroponic and hydroponic industries are slowly gaining traction, as evidenced by restaurants like 50 Ocean, who use similar systems to grow their own herbs and certain produce.
"We can grow almost any leafy green, micro greens, and herb," says Bonavita, adding he hopes to incorporate larger LED lights that will allow him to grow larger fruits and vegetables. "The towers, located against a wall in the lounge area of the restaurant, also provide herbs and garnishes for the bar's cocktails."
Today, the three indoor growing towers are brimming with produce including red spinach, Lollo Rosso lettuce, parsley, and mint. Currently, Bonavita says he is using the hydroponically-grown greens in a number of dishes, including fresh basil in his scallop and octopus appetizer and pomodoro sauce; cilantro in his ceviche and Buffalo rib eye entree; and tarragon for the Bernaise sauce used during brunch. Kale and spinach often appear as specials sides of the evening.
Tim Blank, inventor of the garden system used at 50 Ocean, created the unique tower method of growing plants. It can be assembled in as little as 30 minutes, is made of food grade plastic that is BPA-free, requires no electricity, and has been approved by the USDA.
Each tower has a modular base that can support up to 44 plants. Seeds are started in natural rock fiber and placed in full light for a week or two, where they develop into seedlings that can be installed on the tower. A pump at the base is filled with a mineral nutrient solution, which drips through a device that cascades evenly over the plant roots. Due to its design, plants grow faster than they would in soil, and must be harvested on a regular basis, says Blank.
"I'm looking forward to possibly growing everything from heirloom cherry tomatoes, broccoli, and cauliflower to even watermelon in-house soon," says Bonavita. "The possibilities are endless."
50 Ocean. 50 S. Ocean Blvd., Delray Beach; 561-278-3364; 50ocean.com.