chef drnek

Executive Chef Donald Drnek, of Hilton Times Square, had a culinary vision: grow a garden on the rooftop of his hotel to harvest vegetables and herbs for the property’s restaurants. And last December, he turned that vision into a reality.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, even when I worked at other hotels. Last winter, the GM (general manager) was very supportive of that. We talked to our parent company about buying some planters and soil and such, and along with one of our concierges, who’s very helpful and pro-organic, we bought six planters and tried to grow some plants on the roof. It was very successful, so this year they bought us nine larger ones, and now we have 15 planters up there.”

Cherry Tomatoes

“We have three planters dedicated to a variety of herbs for the kitchen, like basil. We’ve also planted broccoli, cauliflower, beets, celery, carrots, onions, garlic, potatoes, cherry tomatoes, regular tomatoes, three kinds of peppers, eggplant…all kinds of stuff.”

All of these fresh herbs and vegetables are being used in Hilton Times Square’s two restaurants: The Pinnacle Bar and the Restaurant Above.

“These are all going into dishes in the restaurants. Today I went up there and picked some cherry tomatoes and some herbs. Tomorrow some of the tomatoes will be in the special of the day. We incorporate everything into our specials, which we’re calling Roof to Table.”

The feedback from hotel guests about the roof has been great:

“Customers love it. I received the OK from our ownership because the particular roof level the garden is on (the 23rd floor) also has satellite dishes on it. One of the selling points for this garden was that when I put planters in front of every window, guests have something nice to look at instead of looking at satellite dishes. Now people knock on the windows to say ‘Hi’ when we’re out there watering. We also put little posters in the elevators letting guests know that today we’ll have a fish special with garden grown vegetables on the side. And people love that.”

roof to table

The idea to create a rooftop garden has been on Drnek’s mind for a while.

“Years ago, when I worked at another hotel, we always talked about sneaking upstairs and doing a garden on the roof. Our GM last year also worked at Waldorf Astoria New York, where there is a huge garden on the roof. He showed me pictures and I said, ‘Well, why can’t we do that here?’ It’s such a great thing, to be able to go up for a half-hour in the middle of the day and just water the plants.”

On his upcoming plans with the garden:

“At some point, I’d like to get bees up here, so we can make our own honey. And actually our management company Highgate Hotels already has a few other hotels planting rooftop gardens because they had a meeting here last year, saw the garden and loved it.”

About Chef Donald Drnek

Donald Drnek has served as Executive Chef and Director of Food and Beverage at Hilton Times Square for the past 10 years. He’s trained at the French Culinary Institute.