Explore Phoenix-Scottsdale

Phoenix Chefs Cultivate Farm-to-Table Movement

On-site and home gardens bring a new level of freshness to restaurant cuisine

Fresh food is taken to the next level when the garden is on-site.

Once a trendy catchphrase, “farm-to-table” is now a descriptor firmly ensconced in our culinary lexicon to define the way we source ingredients. With two growing seasons, Phoenix offers an agricultural abundance, allowing gardeners to pick tender lettuces in November and juicy tomatoes in April. Local chefs take advantage of this by bringing the farm even closer to the table, with just-harvested ingredients from their on-site or home gardens making their way to your plate.

Fresh and Decorative

At Fellow Osteria, 10 sloped garden beds add both a decorative element as well as assure guests a commitment to freshness.

“We want to provide the highest-quality ingredients as well as maximize each vegetable and herb’s fullest flavor potential,” says owner Nicholas Campisano.

Vegetables shine in seasonal specials, herbs are added to Bolognese and house pesto, and edible flowers create colorful garnishes. Order a cocktail and you’ll find purple basil in the Erba, a begonia garnish on the Spritzer and sage in the Bee’s Knees.

“The quality and care that comes out of the garden is one-of-a-kind. Having a fresh garden just steps away saves time and, most importantly, inspires our team when they go outside to forage,” he says. 

Chef Marcellino Verzino (Courtesy Marcellino Ristorante)

Labor of Love

For chef Marcellino Verzino of Marcellino Ristorante, his home garden is truly a labor of love. Hundreds of pounds of rocks were dug out of the ground and used to create the walls surrounding his garden, which now encompasses 25 raised beds.

“I was born on a farm in Italy and my family had been farmers for generations,” he shares. “I worked as a young boy helping my father tend the fields, animals, vineyard and olive groves.”

Today, his organic garden yields a variety of herbs; produce such as fava beans, broccoli rabe and radicchio; and fruit including figs, citrus and grapes. Fresh fruit is used in Verzino’s dressings, sauces and limoncello, and produce in seasonal specialties such as delicately fried squash blossoms stuffed with fresh mozzarella and anchovies.

“Getting my hands in the soil and nurturing the growth of the seeds is like therapy for me,” Verzino says. “I consider utilizing the freshest organic vegetables and herbs from my garden as my gift to my guests.”

Artist Mother Nature

“As a chef, it’s our duty to work with Mother Nature,” agrees executive sous chef Joseph Lerner of the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa. “She’s the true artist in what we do, and we’re just humble cooks highlighting her bountiful harvest.”

Thus, you’ll find an expansive on-site garden growing lettuces, strawberries, peppers, onions and tomatoes, along with herbs and edible flowers. Most of the items are used for site visits and special events such as a recent garden dinner, where every course featured farm-fresh ingredients, including a pesto made with aged Parmesan, smoked walnuts, olive oil and spicy nasturtium petals.

“As a chef, you start with where your food comes from,” says Lerner. “Our garden showcases seasonality, and that we’re responsible chefs using what Mother Nature has to offer.”

Boulders Resort & Spa (Courtesy Boulders Resort Organic Garden)

Year-Round Produce

At the Boulders Resort & Spa, a 5,600-square-foot garden and 13 raised beds supply the property with year-round lettuces and seasonal vegetables such as kohlrabi, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers.

“We want to have the best possible ingredients,” says executive chef Kyle Lipetzky. “Having the garden in our own backyard, we’re harvesting vegetables at their peak and they’re being used that very same day.”

You’ll enjoy delicious dishes such as roasted beets with Arizona goat cheese and citrus at the Spa Café, or garden heirloom tomatoes with basil aioli and spicy greens at Palo Verde.

“Having this resource makes my job even more worthwhile. Some visitors have a preconceived notion that Arizona is dry and just desert, but guests will wander into the garden and be pleasantly surprised.”

The Boulders offers tours of the garden, which also serves as a space for private dinners and receptions.

“We’re very lucky to have this resource, and I take advantage of it as much as I can.”

Ballpark Bounty

Chase Field, home of baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks, shows that farm-fresh is important here too. D-backs Greens is a 180-square-foot vertical urban garden, planted with more than 200 different herbs and greens. For Chase Field executive chef Stephen Tilder, it’s a selection of what can be best used with the volume of sports fans the stadium sees.

“I suggested things that we would use most, such as herbs, green onions, bell peppers. We’ll incorporate cilantro or chives into aioli in concessions, and use rosemary and other herbs for roasted chicken and grilled steaks. You know that it’s good, fresh produce. When you buy produce that is shipped from all over the country, many times it’s picked before it’s ripe and it sits in a cold locker. But when you clip herbs or pick produce from a garden that’s going right to the table, it’s clean eating,” he says.

Whether it’s a verdant sprawling garden or neat rows of plants making the best use of a small space, having the farm ever closer to the table is a movement being embraced.