For a place where bikinis reign supreme and fitting into those evening gowns is very important, Miami isn’t as flush with healthy, chic eateries as one might expect. Then there’s Essensia, located in South Beach’s The Palms hotel. One of the first spots in the area to offer farm-to-table cuisine, they’ve upped the ante with an onsite chef’s garden, where fresh produce and herbs are harvested and added to the menu on a daily basis by signature chef Julie Frans. So whether you opt for the Thai Lemongrass Soup (a house favorite), a quinoa and black bean salad, or the signature local snapper, you’ll still look trim when you hit the beach. We took a break from taking in the Art Basel scene to find out what makes Frans’ garden grow…
So what’s the story behind your Miami garden?
When I started here, the garden was one of the first projects I worked on, with the main intention of having some home-grown food and herbs. At that time, it was a little bit harder to get farm-to-table food in Miami. There were farms, but working with them was just more challenging; there were less deliveries. I wanted to make sure we had something straight from the dirt, with bugs and everything. Basically, I wanted real food.
How has the garden grown since you first started it?
It’s definitely been an evolution; there’s been a bit of a learning curve. Growing things on the beach is a bit tricky, because the salt air comes over and a lot of the vegetables get burned by the salt. By now, we’ve really refined it to growing things that give us the most bang for our buck. It’s a small garden, but if you plant things that are going to thrive, like lemongrass, lettuce, and herbs, you can cut them, and they keep on growing. You don’t need to keep planting through the season.
What are you harvesting at the moment?
We grow a lot of oregano, which goes into the pomodoro sauce. We have Indian holy basil and Thai basil, which we do cocktails and our Thai soup with. We also have things like chives, rosemary, tarragon, parsley, arugula, radishes, and pak choi.
Do you tackle the gardening duties yourself?
I do. We have a gardening team that comes once a month, but they only look for pest problems or to see if there’s a plant we need to replant. We tend to harvest in the morning and take what we want for the day. We also bring out guests for events and private tours to connect them with the concept of local farming, farm-to-table cuisine, and all of its health benefits.
What are some haute dishes that use a lot of ingredients from the garden?
One of them is our Thai Soup. We grow the kaffir lime, which is the signature flavor. It’s mixed with our lemongrass too. The kale Caesar, which has been on the menu for forever, is popular, too.
It is! People feel it when they’re leaving the restaurant. Even if they’ve had three courses, they feel good. They don’t feel tired and stuffed.