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Chefs reveal secrets to growing great edibles

April 26, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Many in Southern California are planting gardens, but not of flowers but food. We asked two top L.A. chefs what they put in their earthy beds to produce something tasty.You've got to want garden pretty bad if the only available spot is on the roof, across the pool area and then over a wall down into a secret space. But for The Peninsula Hotel's Chef James Overbaugh, it works.

"We have thyme, lavender, even have some pepper plants that survived the winter," Overbaugh said.

Overbaugh said his hearty thyme feeds guests for a week on the cuttings alone, while his basil supplies flavor for dishes from July to October, along with an unusual addition - Calendula flowers.

"I use the flowers in salads. I mean, they're a little bit peppery, a little bit spicy - completely edible. He also uses tarragon, mint and greens. He puts lavender and other herbs in a chicken dish and berries marinated in honey, thyme and Meyer lemon for a fabulous spring finish.

At Blvd.16 at Hotel Palomar in Westwood, Chef Simon Dolinky's setup is on the second floor parking garage. He does what many apartment dwellers should try - hydroponics.

"I have about three different kinds of mint, two different kinds of basil, chili peppers, tomatoes, strawberries," Dolinky said.

Easy-to-use grow bags with aerated bottoms are watered ground up twice a day, with a special timed light to make plants happy.

"This might be a bit much for a home version, but you can buy an aero-garden, which is like a tiny version of this, and it waters it itself and provides the lights, everything you need for like a countertop little herb garden in your house," Dolinky said.

He has no qualms about using topsy-turvies.

"It takes up a lot less space, you don't have to have a pot in a space on the ground. Basically, anywhere you have room to hang something you can grow tomatoes and chili peppers," Dolinky said.

Dolinky created a tomato, mozzarella and basil panini with herbed French fries - seasoned with rosemary and other herbs - compliments of the garden.

Both chefs recommend perennial herbs for first-time growers as they are forgiving when under or over watered.

"Rosemary, basil, thyme I think any of those are going to be pretty easy," Dolinky said. Overbaugh recommended sage and lavender.


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