Thanks to the boom of urban agriculture in Paris, the best restaurants in the city offer hyper-local products

The cool depths of a parking lot might be the last place you’d expect to find culinary innovation in Paris. But as the carless revolution sweeps across the city, empty concrete caverns are turning into underground farms that fuel a growing appetite for hyper-local produce.

For Laurent Couraudon, the founder of Wesh grow up, an urban agriculture project focused on the year-round production of microgreens and aromatic herbs, one could not dream of a more ideal laboratory. Underground where the temperature ranges between 68 and 73 degrees Fahrenheit (even in Paris’s hot summers and humid winters), Couraudon uses hydroponics to grow chef-favorite specialties like sugar snap pea shoots, amaranth, lemon balm and micro earth beets. The freshly picked greens are then delivered, by bicycle or on foot, to many of the city’s Michelin-starred restaurants. Since its launch in 2018 via the ParisCulteurs program, which gives farmers unused sites like rooftops, parking lots and walls, Wesh Grow has expanded to include multiple farms that supply more than 500 restaurants with local produce.

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The Wesh Grow farm at the top of the Beaugrenelle Shopping Center in Paris

Valerie Francois

Wesh Grow (named after the French slang word “wesh”, which roughly translates to “what’s up?”) is one of many companies helping to radically transition the Parisian food system. The city plans increase the total share of locally produced food consumed by Parisians from 25% to 50% by 2030, which would help the sector reduce its carbon emissions and boost employment and biodiversity. For chefs, it also means better access to fresh, nutrient-dense ingredients that are not generally available in France.

“When we started with microgreens and herbs, we first asked the chefs, ‘What do you like and what is hard to find?’ What should you import? says Couraudon, who notes that there was only one company in the Netherlands that supplied the majority of microgreens in Europe. “Some chefs could tell us the species but they were happier when we gave them suggestions. Since we started, we have cultivated 600 species from all over the world.

Many of these aromatic herbs are now thriving in Wesh Grow’s two-acre soil farm on the roof of the Beaugrenelle Paris mall – the city’s largest urban soil farm – which grows 50 species of aromatic herbs from Africa, South America, Australia and beyond. In September, Wesh Grow’s farm at the top of Beaugrenelle will open to the public for its first weekend tours, allowing visitors to learn more about the future of local agriculture (with a view of the Eiffel Tower). Thanks to bushels of Russian mint, holy basil from India and oregano zataar from Syria, plus a fleet of new gardeners, the flavors of the world are just a bike ride away.

Wesh Grow’s herbs end up in Pouliche’s dishes

Anne-Claire Heraud

The chef-owner of the Pouliche Amandine Chaignot

Anne-Claire Heraud

“From a chef’s point of view, it’s amazing because the herbs taste so much better when they’re fresh and picked a few hours ago,” says Amandine Chaignot, chef-owner of filly, a restaurant that works almost exclusively with small farmers and growers like Wesh Grow. Having previously worked in the kitchens of five-star hotels in London and Paris, Chaignot says luxury properties are increasingly prioritizing sustainably grown produce, and their clientele are demanding more.

In Paris, this is perhaps best observed in Hotel Barrière Le Fouquet’s, a culinary destination thanks to its eponymous Michelin-starred brasserie. The century-old establishment began working with Wesh Grow in 2020 to source microgreens and herbs for its restaurants, including The Joy, the only restaurant in Paris to use exclusively French products. On the menu, soft gnocchi accompanied by shellfish, watercress juice and lemony and luminous oxalis leaves which “bring a touch of acidity which goes well with the iodized side of the dish”, explains Bruno Guéret, the executive chef of the hotel. . “Our French farmers have suffered a lot [during the pandemic], we have therefore decided to highlight their know-how by highlighting their quality products. This is our way of supporting them and promoting French products.