The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens have given new meaning to the phrase “garden to plate”  with the completion of Phase One of their Master Plan, which features new buildings, a gift shop, an edible rooftop garden and The Green Orchid restaurant, currently open only to Garden visitors. Run by the seasoned team at Michael’s On East, this establishment blends its experience with Selby’s commitment to sustainability. Phase One includes the installation of a nearly 50,000 square-foot solar array that will make it the world’s first net-positive botanical garden complex once the installation is complete, meaning that it generates more energy than it consumes and will grant The Green Orchid status as the world’s first net-positive restaurant.  “Since this venue differs from the original Michael’s On East restaurant, I had to turn my focus to creating garden-to-table dishes and having them be unique and tasteful, with an emphasis on more gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options,” says Executive Chef Jamil Pineda, who enjoys using the restaurant’s fully electric and induction kitchen. “My team and I are always mindful of looking at new recipes or ingredients we can incorporate into each dish. It makes being a chef fun when you have a great team that brings new ideas daily. Having the wonderful rooftop garden to work with is a special bonus.”

The Drs. Andrew and Judith Economos Rooftop Edible Garden, from which the eatery sources vegetables, herbs and edible flowers, is like a jungle wonderland. Operation EcoVets, an organization consisting of and supporting military veterans, runs the garden. “Camille Van Sant and her team from Operation EcoVets harvest fresh herbs and vegetables grown right on our rooftop. Just to list off the top of my head: fresh heirloom tomatoes, mint, celery, fennel, red romaine, chives, kale and edible nasturtium flowers are brought down to our kitchen and utilized daily in our dishes, which is such a treat. Also, our centerpieces on the tables are cut from our herb garden daily,” Pineda adds. 

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan

One dish that celebrates ingredients from the garden is the Spicy Korean Lettuce Wraps, with roasted cauliflower, toasted peanuts, spicy vegan mayo, cilantro and chives. “We added this tasty appetizer to showcase produce from the rooftop garden and feature a unique and flavorful vegan and vegetarian dish,” says Pineda. The Crispy Yucca Fries served with homemade chipotle aioli, are another dynamite starter and a healthy substitute for traditional French fries. 

Can’t-miss meals include the Green Orchid Salad, with romaine hearts, avocado, English cucumbers, sugar snap peas, edamame, celery, toasted pistachios, mint and a herbaceous Green Goddess dressing. “The name speaks for itself as all the salad components are the color green,” Pineda adds. The Cape Malay Street Tacos are another delicious option. They’re filled with seared Malay-spiced tiger prawns, avocado, shredded lettuce, charred corn pico de gallo and cilantro crema and served with yucca fries. “These were inspired by a Londolozi Game Reserve favorite recipe discovered by Michael and Terri Klauber in their travels there and provided by their South African chef,” he says. “Cape Malay cuisine is a special style of aromatic cooking that fuses traditions from Malaysian, Indonesian and East African cuisines, refined in Cape Town by Dutch settlers in the 17th and 18th centuries.” 

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan

Guests should save room for dessert, especially the Lavender-Infused Crème Brûlée. “This is not your typical Crème Brûlée,” adds Pineda. “Pastry Chef Ray Lajoie simmers the lavender in Tahitian cream while also sprinkling lavender on top of the dessert, given its unique and soothing taste. Jasmine tea cookies baked with edible flowers are placed on the side of the dish.” Every bite, from the first crackly morsel to the last, ends the meal with a flair, reminding diners that the best flavors come from Mother Nature.