Moments after arriving at the Brooklyn townhouse that is home to Clean Plates-approved Palo Santo, I was staring at a steep ladder: Chef Jacques Gautier was leading me to his rooftop garden.
We passed rabbits he breeds, stepped over aromatic herbs and one shaky step at a time climbed to reach the sunny rooftop. As Chef Gautier weeded the chives and pointed out where he composts organic waste, we chatted about the brilliance of tortillas made to order, volunteering with NYC schools and how the body craves what it needs.
Q: If you took the night off from the kitchen and sat down in Palo Santo to eat, what would you order?
A: I would probably have a different answer to this question every day, but today (a warm, spring afternoon), I’d love to sit down with a plate of fresh oysters from Montauk and a glass of rosé.
Q: You opened Palo Santo in Park Slope in 2006; what dishes keep diners coming back?
A: The menu changes every day at Palo Santo. One customer favorite is our tacos–each and every tortilla is made to order. The texture is awesome. Lobster tacos, pork tacos; they keep people coming back. Our brunch is also very popular. I love the huevos bañados–poached eggs, beans, avocado and grilled bread.
Q: Tell me a little bit about your rooftop garden—what are you growing? Are you raising anything new?
A: I started the rooftop garden six years ago and it’s been expanding ever since. We’re growing salad greens, herbs and these delicious little purple tomatillos, amongst other things. One new strategy this year is utilizing rainwater collection. Each year we host one dinner, usually at the end of the summer, where all the ingredients are sourced from right here on our rooftop.
Q: You volunteer with NYC public schools. What do you try to teach the kids?
A: Recently I took public school students on a field trip to the greenmarket. Their school is only two blocks away and yet most of the students had never set foot inside. It was eye opening for them to buy food straight from the person who grew it. Back at Palo Santo, we made lunch with the fresh ingredients.
Q: What do you crave when you’re not at Palo Santo?
A: Before I opened Palo Santo, when I worked at other restaurants (Vong in New York, Azie in San Francisco) I always craved Latin food. We used to make it regularly for staff meal. Now that I’m serving Latin market cooking at Palo Santo, my cravings have shifted. I want barbeque.
This year we opened Fort Reno*, down the street from Palo Santo. All the meat is organic and grass-fed. Now, I’m craving vegetables. I find myself heading over to Chinatown for a big plate of stir-fried veggies. The body knows what it needs: That’s why we’re hungry after eating junk food, right? We’re eating, but not getting any nutrients the body needs.
*Writer’s note: don’t miss the collard greens at Fort Reno.
Images courtesy of Jessica Colley.