Maïs. Restaurant & Urban Rooftop Garden. Montreal.

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The story starts with seeds. Will began growing his rooftop garden from seedlings in the spring.

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At my first visit in June, the seedlings had recently been moved out to the rooftop, in recycling bins used as growing containers. The plastic tube stuck inside the earth is a method of urban garden irrigation, allowing water to get to the roots of the plants. “The box system is known as self watering boxes. They are great because they allow your plants to have constant access to water. The downside is that if the reservoirs collapses during the growing season then there is no drainage which causes the root system of the plants start to root and eventually the plant will die“, explained Will.

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Lovely red lettuce.

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Tomatillos! these plants get big and will take over the garden if don’t cut them back regularly, explained Will. He grew them last year, and discovered their sprawling tendencies the hard way, so placed the plants in their own corner this season.

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Soon to be Pequillo peppers! one of my favourite peppers, delicious on their own, simply grilled and seasoned.

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Shoots! early life…

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Peas beginning to climb!

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Nasturtiums! these plants are medicinal, with antiseptic, antibiotic, antiseptic, and anti-fungal properties. Traditionally used to treat respiratory infections and conditions such as cough and bronchitis. Topically it can also be treated for muscle pain, treat minor cuts, and treat some types of acne and skin irritations.  Nutritionally, Nasturtiums are a great source of vitamin C (like all leafy greens), which is a powerful antioxidant. All parts of the plant are edible, offering a different taste and texture, with an overall bittersweet peppery flavour. You can pickle the seeds which tastes like roasted capers. Nasturium oil is also extractable and used in cooking to give a lovely spicy mustard-like taste.

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Beautiful baby mustard greens.

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Infant scallions… watch how they grow later on in the post!

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Watermelon radishes.

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Soon to be zucchini!

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During my second visit to the rooftop, just three weeks later, the plants had grown  noticeably larger and were beginning to fruit!

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The variety of heirloom tomatoes had begun showing their colours & stripes!

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Borage flowers aka starflower! picked for the strawberry dish (see below!) Borage helps repel pests such as hornworms and attracts pollinator bees – aiding all plants it is grown with, especially tomatoes, strawberries and squash. Nutritionally, Borage is the highest known plant source of Omega 6 fats, B vitamins, Vitamin A, fiber, and minerals. Medicinally, borage is used topically for skin disorders like eczema, dermatitis and can also be internally to treat respiratory conditions like cough, bronchitis, and colds. Borage may be used to help balance hormones, and treat arthritis due to its anti-inflammatory properties.

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Strawberries & mint to be used in Will’s dessert dish!

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Zucchini blossoms about to burst!

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This variety of zucchini looks just like a Smurf! (as noted by Will) and is used in the zucchini taco served at Maïs (see below)

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See how scallions grew! big enough to be harvested.

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Sweet summer peas all grown up!

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Hot pepper waiting to be harvested!

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The Nasturtium plants had flowered!

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Baby watermelon radishes were not so baby sized anymore!

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The gorgeous collection of ingredients were ready to be turned into delicious and very local food!

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Will used the whole zucchini to make this veggie taco, grilling the squash and stuffing the blossom.

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Taco made with zucchini flower stuffed with house made queso fresco (made with local organic milk from the amazing Societe Original) and pumpkin seed salsa.

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Will then made a beautiful dessert using the borage flowers, fresh mint from the garden, and strawberries.

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The full circle of food was complete! from seed to plate. Carefully crafted colourful plates of freshly grown food from the Maïs rooftop garden.

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Restaurant Maïs is a 2-year old Mexican-style restaurant in Montreal’s Mile-End, run by chefs & co-proprietors Will Cody, Gil Macnutt, and Dave Schmidt. Maïs is a special and unique restaurant for numerous reasons, mostly because it has it’s own rooftop garden, from which they derive some of their summer produce from. When I learned about Maïs’ food growing project, I was inspired to visit the urban garden and document the activity. My friend Will Cody, the head grower at Maïs’ garden, generously agreed to let me shadow him around the rooftop over the last few months, to observe the gradual growth of his edible plants!

Considering that the restaurant is located in an urban area with little access to arable land, Will decided to grow his edible garden on the roof, as a way to realize his dream of creating a garden-to-table restaurant in the city. The garden was originally set-up with the facilitation of Santropol Roulant, one of Montreal’s leading food security organizations that also work in the area of sustainable food growing. Having grown up in a farming family, Will had a great deal of food-growing knowledge to share, and I learned a lot about the different plants in his garden. Will planted 20+ varieties of vegetables, fruits, and herbs, most of which were heirloom varieties that fruit at different times of the season, ensuring there is always something to harvest. While the garden may not be capable of supplying enough produce to sustain the restaurants high demand, Will always manages to incorporate some of the fresh fruits of his labour into the dishes at Maïs. Will’s rooftop garden serves as inspiration to us urban dwellers who desire to participate in the food growing process, and who care about the quality and sustainability of the food we consume. Growing your own food allows you to offset your fossil fuel consumption, and grocery bill, which is makes it a positive and worthwhile endeavour!

Maïs is just one of a few restaurants in Montreal growing some of it’s own seasonal produce, but hopefully this initiative will continue and motivate other chefs & proprietors to do the same. This model of urban food growing is a fantastic example for those interested in growing their own, without access to a yard. To achieve this, one does require access to a strong, stable rooftop and a passion for food growing! There is great potential and numerous benefits in growing food on empty rooftops in the city, for example:

1. Rooftop gardens add a green dimension to the urban landscape, enhancing the aesthetic of its surrounds and potentially increasing the property value of the building/house.

2. Environmentally, green roofs can help in the absorption of carbon dioxide, helping reduce air pollution.

3. Rooftop gardens are much lower maintenance than  field growing, which makes it a realistic option for working urban dwellers.

4. Economically, there are no land/plot costs, which makes it accessible to a wider socio-economic demographic.

5. Growing your own not only provides the freshest chemical-free food possible, but it also offers food for bees, opportunity to connect with your food source, and a peaceful place to spend time!

Visit the restaurant this summer and sample some of their freshly grown food: 5439 Blvd St-Laurent Montreal.

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2 comments

  • leonardo Lopez August 1, 2014   Reply →

    hi, very nice, how many seats does the restaurant have, i´m trying to do the same in a patio of a restaurant with 35 seats. congrats

    • Danielle Levy August 4, 2014   Reply →

      Hello Leonardo!
      Thank you for your comment! Mais has 63 seats + a 25-seater private dining area. Is your restaurant located in Montreal? if so, Will Cody does consulting with other chefs/proprietors to help set up similar resto/garden designs. Please email me for further info: d@daniellelevynutrition.com
      Best,
      Danielle

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