The cool depths of a parking garage might be the last place you would expect to find culinary innovation in Paris. But as the car-free revolution sweeps through the city, empty concrete caverns are being transformed into subterranean farms that feed a growing appetite for hyper-local produce.
For Laurent Couraudon, the founder of Wesh Grow, an urban agricultural project focusing on the year-round production of microgreens and aromatic herbs, you couldn’t ask for a more ideal laboratory. Underground where the temperature ranges between 68 to 73 degrees Fahrenheit (even during Paris’s scorching hot summers and damp winters), Couraudon uses hydroponics to grow chef-favored delicacies like sweet-pea shoots, amaranth, lemon balm, and earthy micro beets. The freshly plucked greens are then delivered—by bicycle or foot—to many of the city’s Michelin-starred restaurants. Since launching in 2018 through the ParisCulteurs program, which gives unused sites like rooftops, parking lots, and walls to farmers, Wesh Grow has expanded to include multiple farms that supply more than 500 restaurants with local produce.
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Wesh Grow (named after the French slang word “wesh,” which roughly translates to “what’s up?”) is one of many companies contributing to Paris’s radical food system transition. The city plans to increase the total share of locally produced food consumed by Parisians from 25 percent to 50 percent by 2030—a move that would help the sector slash its carbon emissions, and boost employment and biodiversity. For chefs, it also means better access to nutrient-dense, fresh ingredients that aren’t typically available in France.
“When we started with microgreens and aromatic herbs, we first asked the chefs, ‘What do you like and what is hard to find? What do you have to import?’” says Couraudon, who notes that there was just 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 came to them with suggestions. Since we began, we have grown 600 species from around the world.”
Many of these aromatic herbs now thrive in Wesh Grow’s two-acre soil farm on the rooftop of the Beaugrenelle Paris shopping mall—the largest urban soil farm in the city—which grows 50 species of aromatic herbs from Africa, South America, Australia, and beyond. This September, Wesh Grow’s farm on the top of the Beaugrenelle will open to the public for its first weekend tours, allowing visitors to learn more about the future of local agriculture (complete with a view of the Eiffel Tower). Thanks to bushels of Russian mint, holy basil from India, and zataar oregano from Syria—plus a fleet of new gardeners—the flavors of the world are just a bike ride away.
“From a chef’s perspective, it’s amazing because herbs taste so much better when they’re fresh and just picked a few hours back,” says Amandine Chaignot, the chef-owner of Pouliche, a restaurant that works almost exclusively with small farmers and producers 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 farmed produce—and their clientele is demanding more of that.
In Paris, perhaps this can be best observed at Hotel Barrière Le Fouquet’s, a culinary destination thanks to its namesake Michelin-starred brasserie. The century-old establishment began working with Wesh Grow in 2020 to source microgreens and herbs for its eateries, including Le Joy, the only restaurant in Paris to exclusively use French products. On the menu, you’ll find pillowy gnocchi paired with shellfish, watercress juice, and lemony, bright oxalis leaves which “bring a touch of acidity that goes well with the iodized side of the dish,” says Bruno Guéret, the hotel’s executive chef. “Our French farmers suffered a lot [during the pandemic], so we decided to highlight their know-how by honoring their quality products. This is our way of supporting them and making French products shine.”