Yesterday we spoke with Bell Book & Candle‘s John Mooney about the challenges of urban gardening and having a rooftop plot six flights up above his restaurant. Today he tells us how he got into the green movement.
Tell me a bit more about your background. Where were you cooking before Bell Book & Candle?
Before here I owned a restaurant in Florida called Highland Manor. It was a big old plantation built in 1903. We wanted a compound with animals and vegetables, which was difficult, but the technology ultimately translated to what we’re doing here. And I worked at the Shelbourne Hotel, which is like the Plaza of Ireland. Before that I was in India, where I worked at what they called the country’s first organic restaurant, and before that I was the executive chef of the W hotel. I created the wellness program there. I’ve focused on ingredients since 1999, so it’s all been a process since then.
Do you think there are significant differences between the ways Europeans eat and Americans eat, having lived abroad?
I think everyone attributes something in diet to health. In India there’s a huge problem right now with diabetes, but Europe is pretty forward-thinking with their food program. But with the boom of the euro, they were much more gluttonous than they are now.
“Local,” “sustainable,” and “organic” are all big words in today’s foodscape. Is one more important than the other?
It’s all about responsibility. The way I present it to anyone is that this is something I believe in. I’m a young chef compared to Alice Waters or any of those West Coast chefs. I’m not a crusader. I do what makes me feel good and what’s good for my staff, although my technology is state-of-the-art.
Do you see a lot of fake locavorism or chefs and restaurateurs just using it as a buzzword?
I’ll say that I do know what I produce is from a real farm, not just window boxes.
What’s the most underrated vegetable?
I love the delicate things. Tomatoes are great. We grew nine varieties here. I’m also surprised at how strong some of the herbs are. Aromatically they do amazing things and have medicinal properties.
Where do you live? Do you garden at home?
I live in the city, but we don’t have a garden or window boxes. There’s no real balance between home and work life in this business. I spend all my time at the restaurant.
At least there’s a garden there.
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