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From roof-top to fork: an alternative food sourcing solution for corporate catering

Sous les fraises
Combining urban and agrarian infrastructures, agriculture and exemplary carbon footprints, and urban farming and contract catering: these are the components of the three-fold challenge being addressed by the ultra-short-circuit urban vegetable garden project launched by Arpège in partnership with the French pioneer in urban agriculture, Sous Les Fraises, to feed the employees of Nestlé with seasonal, ultra-fresh and local products.

Installed on the roof top of a building in Issy-Les-Moulineaux shortly before summer 2020, this initiative, which is currently unique in the services sector, is reinventing the meal codes of Nestlé’s corporate canteen located a few floors below. This urban vegetable garden has made it possible to create a solution that combines well-being, health and the environment thanks to a real source of biodiversity covering more than 2,000 m2, a reception and recreational area, as well as an ultra-short circuit vegetable cultivation system.

An unprecedented collaboration in contract catering

Aware of how important it is to eat well to keep fit, Arpège (Elior Group’s “Parisian” brand) is committed to offering its guests products that are grown as close as possible to where they are served so as to ensure that every day, diners can savor a variety of fresh, healthy and gourmet dishes. For this reason, the company teamed up with Sous Les Fraises, a pioneer in the cultivation of edible plants in urban areas. Founded in 2014, the Sous les Fraises project is the fruit of continuous collaborative research carried out by a team of agronomists, chefs, architects, urban planners, engineers and city dwellers; the purpose being to promote the implementation of biotechnologies that are adapted to built-up environments and are committed to water and waste management and to growing food for cities.

To achieve this economically balanced result, the teams of Arpège and Sous Les Fraises joined forces when the urban agriculture project was conceived, to calibrate harvests, determine the type of food produced, and to plan the spatial layout and the ecosystem services system.

Sous les fraises

Fresh, quality products for every season

The vegetable garden’s entire production serves to supply the Arpège company restaurant all year round. Since mid-August 2020, crops harvested have supplied part of the restaurant's fresh produce needs thanks to 11,070 plants cultivated over a surface area of more than 1,000 m², of which 550 m² reserved for crops grown vertically in permaculture structures and 580 m² for those cultivated horizontally in containers.

Crops cultivated include aromatic plants (chives, curly parsley, flat-leaf parsley, tarragon etc.), fruits and vegetables (raspberries, blackcurrants, strawberries, red and yellow cherry tomatoes etc.) and edible flowers (begonias, cosmos, nasturtiums, carnations, etc.). In accordance with the principles of permaculture, no herbicides or pesticides are used to cultivate crops thus enabling diners to rediscover the freshness and taste of the seasonal products that enhance the dishes. In addition to lunch, employees are offered a range of fresh herbal infusions and delicatessen-type snacks made from the various products grown in the vegetable garden.

This vegetable garden is a source of inspiration for the Arpège chefs who take advantage of the produce cultivated to create tasty, local recipes:

  • Starters: Rainbow tomatoes in tarragon oil / Parsley pancetta / Spicy hot pepper compote 
  • Main courses: Candied vegetables in lemon-flavored thyme, tomato-verbena marmalade
  • Desserts: Strawberry tart, vanilla cream, strawberry confit with sage / Raspberry and blackcurrant pavlova, light mousseline, begonia petals 

This is a godsend for Nestlé employees who can savor exceptional dishes rarely featured on contract catering menus.

An innovative project that respects the environment

The innovative vertical permaculture technique, developed by Sous Les Fraises, guarantees production volumes over the long term and a chemical-free agricultural approach which promotes local biodiversity. 

While the main objective of the vegetable garden is to feed corporate canteen guests in a responsible way by supplying them with fresh fruits and vegetables, it is also an excellent means of raising diners’ awareness to, and educating them about environmental issues and the principles of urban agriculture. Workshops and events are organized in the vegetable garden for company employees including guided tours and theme-based events enabling participants to discover permaculture and edible flowers. In addition, employees can take part in culinary and gardening workshops, etc. where they can familiarize themselves with product sourcing and seasonality and discover new varieties, while integrating the importance of maintaining biodiversity. 

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