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A Compost Grows in Beverly Hills

On the Roof with Peninsula Chef David Codney

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 an elaborate restaurant such as the ritzy 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, there is also a delicious gluten-free pasta with tomatoes on the menu and 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 said. “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.

“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 that you can grow in your back garden. “There is really nothing like a fresh tomato off the vine,” says Codney. “That over-ripeness 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,” Codney said.

The final surprise is 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 the 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. 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,” informs Codney. “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 they replant 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 through 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 back of the house 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.

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