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Rooftop Garden as Local as It Gets for Conrad New York’s Executive Chef

Gerron Douglas

NEW YORK—Up on the roof of the Conrad New York, a luxury waterfront, all-suite hotel located in the heart of lower Manhattan’s Battery Park City, Executive Chef Gerron Douglas can be found year-round, overseeing a garden that even in the winter produces root vegetables, squash and some herbs. The rooftop garden and green roof have been in place since the LEED Gold certified hotel was renovated six years ago. “There is always something there,” Douglas says. “We adjust based on the season.” In the warmer months the garden produces lettuce, mustard greens and tomatoes. Douglas adds, “We really try to focus on the fresh herbs, greens in salads, edible flowers, and chili peppers. The lettuce and herbs are fast-replenishing.”

The rooftop of the hotel is split into two levels—an area for the Loopy Doopy Rooftop Bar and HVAC equipment, and a second green roof tier where there is space for the garden. The green roof flooring is an organic material that allows for proper drainage. There is also an area for reclaiming water.

“We have five garden beds,” Douglas says. “The beds have a wooden frame structure. Underneath there is a drainage system—some piping and rock. Each bed is probably 40 feet in length and six feet wide. We operate three of the beds. We share two with another restaurant in the building. We have a gardener who assists us. It is a lot of upkeep.”

Given the volume of food prepared and served in the hotel’s ATRIO Wine Bar & Restaurant, the rooftop garden does not meet all of the chef’s needs. Items grown in it, however, enhance the menu and their presence is communicated to guests. “We will use it in our specials,” Douglas says. “It adds that extra element of service and caring. For me as a chef, I sleep better at night because I am providing my guests with better ingredients.”

Emphasis on Local Procurement

Douglas says the rooftop garden is just part of the hotel’s overall strategy to source locally. “We are always looking for and searching for great local vendors,” he says. “We will go to various green markets and meet the farmers. We will try to meet with seafood vendors. We will tour farms and seek out products that speak to a local nature—not just because it is local but because it is a better quality. I recently went to a dairy farm upstate to see how they take care of their cows—how they are able to create a great brand of dairy products.”

Bee hives have been quite common on hotel rooftops and Douglas says it is something he is currently researching. “I already have a beekeeper selected,” he says. Douglas previously worked as a sous chef at the Waldorf Astoria New York where there were four bee hives.

The Conrad New York is working on a compost program for its rooftop that would utilize organic material from the kitchen. A bio-digester is also being tested. Currently, the hotel’s organics are picked up by a vendor.

Additional Best Practices

In addition to the green roof, rooftop garden and other F&B achievements, noteworthy environmentally-friendly features at the Conrad New York include: paint and pavings that meet the high reflectance criteria of LEED, bike racks for public use, low-flow plumbing fixtures that help the hotel reduce its water consumption by more than 30 percent, LED lights for more than 60 percent of all lighting at the hotel, low-VOC materials to promote indoor air quality, locally sourced materials, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood, and Energy Star kitchen equipment that contributes to the building’s energy efficiency.

Prior to his role as Executive Chef, Douglas served as Conrad New York’s executive banquet chef at restaurateur Danny Meyer’s Union Square Events, where he managed all aspects of the hotel’s catering to ensure customer satisfaction and business profitability, while providing leadership to the rest of his team. At the Waldorf Astoria New York, he worked closely with the executive chef and banquet chef to create new menus and develop innovative concepts. Douglas began his career as a line cook at Café Provencal in Los Angeles in 2002 before he took his talents to New York in 2005 with Amuse restaurant.

Douglas hails from Los Angeles, and earned an Associate’s Degree in Culinary Arts from the Le Cordon Bleu Program at The California School of Culinary Arts.

Glenn Hasek can be reached at editor@greenlodgingnews.com.