A Compost Grows in Beverly Hills

Executive Chef David Codney is full of many surprises—one being his recipe for stewed tomatoes. It’s not a dish most people crave at a restaurant as ritzy as the Belvedere at the Peninsula in Beverly Hills—known for a new seafood-centric Mediterranean concept—but it’s actually a standout comfort dish.

“When we started doing the menu concept for the new restaurant, we came up with this old-school . . . breadcrumbs with unctuous olive oil that just absorbs it all in, and that was the take on the dish,” explains Codney. “It’s a good, hearty dish all the way around.” Reflecting the chef’s firm belief in letting the produce shine, a delicious gluten-free pasta with tomatoes is on the menu, along with a flatbread with cherry tomatoes, avocado, and crab.

Another surprise up Codney’s sleeve is a rooftop garden at the hotel. “The whole concept and premise behind this was part of the Peninsula initiative for everyone to have a garden,” he says. “Through the years, ours has gotten bigger and bigger and sort of morphed into its own thing. I work with the Seeds Savor Exchange, which is where we get some of our heirloom tomatoes from, along with Two Dog Organic Nursery and Logan’s from the Santa Monica Farmers Market.

There is really nothing like a fresh tomato off the vine . . . That overripeness where it’s almost fermented, it’s unbelievable.

“All of these guys are organic, sustainable, and go back into seed banks,” says Codney. This garden started out as an educational piece for cooks to see the differences between a farm tomato and one you can grow in your back garden. “There is really nothing like a fresh tomato off the vine,” says Codney. “That overripeness where it’s almost fermented, it’s unbelievable.” This experiment turned into a thirst for knowledge. “Now we do our own compost upstairs (on the roof garden)—we just grow, grow, grow to see what works and what doesn’t work,” he says.

The final surprise? The chefs make their own compost at the Peninsula for the roof garden. Codney explains the green concept: “We juice a ton here, volume-wise, about 15 gallons of orange juice a day—not to mention the green juice and coconut juice that we do every day. So we have a heaping amount of products left over. My whole thing is how do we reduce waste from a sustainable standpoint?”

When he was growing up, Codney’s mom made a compost in their backyard and called it “black gold.” “The cool thing about compost is the upkeep on weeding,” he said. “All of a sudden, you’ll have a dead bed, but the compost will just spring back up. We use it as base for everything. We just start there and add coffee grounds, lettuce, but no beets because it makes the soil acidic. I’m also a big fan of eggshells from the calcium standpoint, and they absorb the moisture.”

After a tough time with worms and snails, “we have our own ecosystem upstairs,” Codney continues. “We tried making our own vinegar to get rid of the snails, but we fell in love with a worm casting product from Worm Farms in Malibu that sells worm pee. You buy the water that leeches out the worm—it’s full of natural fertilizer. It’s just amazing. To be in Beverly Hills and have something so cool and diverse has really helped out.”

Usually, the garden is in full bloom by summer, it caps out in July, and Codney replants in September for the winter. As far as the chef’s love for tomatoes, “They are so utilitarian. We use them for juice, compost, jam, chutney, salsas. When you think about the tomato itself, it transcends all cultures. We couldn’t have a kitchen without tomatoes.”

Chef Codney’s seasonally driven menu focuses on locally sourced ingredients of the highest quality, aiding in making his gazpacho, which is pureed with confit tomatoes, Pernod, fennel, and crab. Chef Codney also has an affinity for hot sauce, which is fermented in old tequila barrels with chili peppers. You can try the fruits of this labor, and the award-winning sauce, during summer barbecues on the roof—right next to the garden.


Stewed Tomatoes
From executive chef David Codney at the Belvedere at the Peninsula in Beverly Hills

Ingredients:

2 cups baby heirloom tomatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
5 shallots, sliced
5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons whole basil leaves
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon thyme, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 Roma tomatoes
½ cup panko
1 teaspoon parsley, chopped

Instructions:

Rinse the heirloom tomatoes and marinate for 1 hour with olive oil, sliced shallot, and sliced garlic.

Heat oven to 325 F. Once marinated, transfer tomatoes to a pot and top with whole basil leaves. Cook tomatoes for 20 minutes, making sure the basil does not burn. Once the tomatoes are nice and tender, separate the tomato from the juice. Season the juice with sherry vinegar, chopped thyme, and salt and pepper.

Peel the Roma tomatoes, cut them in half, and place in a pot. Add in the cooked heirloom tomatoes and seasoned juice, and cover the top with a very thin layer of panko. Cook at 375 F until panko becomes golden and remove from oven.

Garnish the plate with chopped parsley and serve.