How hotels bring farm-fresh goods to local tables
by Rona Gindin
Even the most locavore-loco among us decries Central Florida’s lack of produce from area farms, artisan foods from nearby culinary craftsman and meats from regional ranches. Some of us bop from event to crunchy event, picking up, say, tomatoes at a farmers’ market, homemade granola at a specialty shop and chef-smoked bacon at a harvest festival.
Imagine what hotel chefs go through to get local goods. Whether they’re feeding well-heeled travelers who prefer pesticide-free regional bounty in restaurants or via massive catering operations, the top culinarians put out hundreds or thousands of meals every day. They’re fighting for the same Zellwood corn and Heart of Christmas lettuce leaves as the rest of us.
Their efforts are as diverse as their menus. Some hotel chefs ignore the entire trend, saving themselves the added pressure of arduous procurement predicaments. Others highlight star area ingredients in only a signature dish or two. And then there are the fork-to-table fanatics, tracking down farmers, creating co-ops and generally restructuring traditional purchasing structures so they can infuse their menus with a majority of impressively sourced foodstuffs.
Here we showcase some of Central Florida’s lodging leaders, highlighting one dish apiece that celebrates nature’s best, à la Sunshine State.
RESTAURANT Old Hickory Steakhouse
CHEF Paul Player
THE CONCEPT A classic American steakhouse with a modern twist featuring all-natural Black Angus beef, handcrafted cheeses and an extensive wine list
A FLORIDA CELEBRATION Baked blackback flounder with roasted Zellwood corn and a citrus (local when in season) beurre blanc
With 1,406 rooms, six restaurants and an extensive catering operation, the Gaylord Palms Resort churns through massive amounts of all foodstuffs, from tomatoes to fish fillets. Executive Chef Paul Player tried for years to use locally raised produce when possible but found procurement a perpetual challenge. “For the local guy to make money, they pretty much need me to buy their entire stock or it’s not worth it for them,” he recalls.
Today Player receives loads of local bounty thanks to Osceola County Grown, which aims to connect farmers to restaurants. The goal is for one supplier to, say, buy from five farms and deliver the goods to 10 restaurants. This will work because the local farmers will sell in bulk and the chefs will get the county-raised greens.
Player’s main supplier, Red’s Market [FreshPoint], works with area farmers. “I tell them which farms I want them to buy from. They get my ingredients from there when the produce is available, then fill in with out-of-town goods when supplies are short,” he says.
As for fish, 90 percent of Gaylord’s finny friends are from local waters, or at least are sustainable. “Our purveyor has a list that’s correlated with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s watch list,” he explains.
Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort at Bonnet Creek
RESTAURANT deep blu seafood grille
CHEF Cory York
THE CONCEPT Seafood restaurant dedicated to using local, sustainable and organic and otherwise sustainably grown and harvested ingredients whenever possible
A FLORIDA CELEBRATION Space Coast mahi-mahi with Florida rock shrimp (in season), Gulf grouper, Cape Canaveral calamari, Waterkist Farms tomatoes and Healthy Living Farms fennel and leeks
For Cory D. York, serving locally harvested and sustainable seafood is a “culinary code of ethics.” Insisting “It’s so important in this day and age that we follow our beliefs,” the chef de cuisine of deep blu seafood grille is nearly fanatical about offering finfish and shellfish caught with respect for nature. With the help of Orlando supplier Gary’s Seafood Specialties, York’s menu might feature swordfish and mahi-mahi from the Atlantic Ocean and littleneck clams from the Gulf of Mexico.
Since you “can’t always find wild halibut,” as an example, and sometimes need farmed fish, York seeks out “sustainable aquacultural” sources. “You know they provide proper feed, not ground up pieces of dog food or the same fish,” he explains. Accompanying greens are provided by Mr. Greenjeans’ Produce, which delivers its goods with details on the local farms from which they come “just so I know,” York explains.
York has been on a quest to learn all he can about top-quality seafood for seven years, and a recent visit to Spain confirmed to him that the American standard of “trucking things in, buying them for as little as we can get them and selling them as cheaply as we can” isn’t acceptable. “In Spain, farm to fork is not a marketing tool. It’s a way of life.”
Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek
RESTAURANT La Luce® by Donna Scala
CHEF Donna Scala
THE CONCEPT Authentic modern Italian country cooking with fresh ingredients
A FLORIDA CELEBRATION Roasted Tanglewood Farms half chicken with grilled Zellwood corn polenta finished with red pepper butter
At her longtime California restaurant, Bistro Don Giovanni, Donna Scala receives fish live and basil daily. Imagine her challenge, then, when opening a restaurant in Orlando where that kind of food culture doesn’t exist. “Here, even if the basil is local and fresh, it’s still a couple of days old,” says Francis Metais, Food and Beverage Director for the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek, the local restaurant’s home.
Procurement is serious business for Orlando’s La Luce, and the chefs incorporate local products wherever they can. Examples are eggs from Ocoee’s Lake Meadow Naturals, honey from Winter Park Honey, and, lately, some “tiny” strawberries that were so good “we just cut them in half, macerated them in lemon for an hour and put a bit of crumble on top,” Metais reports. A summer salad of locally raised butter lettuce was prepared with grilled sliced local peaches.
“It’s a constant battle to find good products,” Metais concedes. “But it’s worth it. Guests will say, ‘Wow! How come this salad is so good?’ The reason is that the ingredients are good.”
RESTAURANT Napa at The Peabody
CHEF Jared Gross
THE CONCEPT Wine Country–themed, primarily organic and farm-to-fork restaurant incorporating local flavors
A FLORIDA CELEBRATION Cioppino, a seafood stew of mussels and Florida calamari, lump crab, rock shrimp, mahi-mahi, local fennel and leeks, spicy Waterkist Farms tomato broth, paprika rouille and house-made focaccia crostini garnish
RESTAURANT Spencer’s for Steaks and Chops
CHEF Kevin Spencer
THE CONCEPT Classic steakhouse featuring Prime dry-aged beef and contemporary twists
A FLORIDA CELEBRATION Grass-fed natural filet mignon from White Oak Pastures in Georgia with Palmetto Creek pork belly, confit potatoes, Frangelico onions, English pea puree and truffle-scented Lakeridge Winery cuvee noir
RESTAURANT Hawk’s Landing Steakhouse & Grille
CHEF James Routhier
THE CONCEPT Steakhouse with golf course views featuring Harris Ranch Prime dry-aged beef and local seafood
A FLORIDA CELEBRATION Lake Meadow Naturals half chicken with roasted root vegetables and natural jus
RESTAURANT Cascade American Bistro
CHEF Kyle Anderson
THE CONCEPT Casual bistro featuring a melting pot of American and international cuisines with an emphasis on “Food thoughtfully sourced, carefully served”
A FLORIDA CELEBRATION Florida rock shrimp ravioli with Cape Canaveral pink shrimp, Zellwood corn, local tomatoes and house-grown pea tendrils
RESTAURANT Islands Dining Room
CHEF Nando Belmonte
THE CONCEPT Pan-Asian cuisine with a twist incorporating local flavors
A FLORIDA CELEBRATION Port Canaveral shrimp and papaya salad with Royal Red shrimp, green papaya, 3 Boys Farms hydroponic tomatoes, Heart of Christmas Farms organic baby greens and garlic-lime vinaigrette
RESTAURANT Catering department
CHEF John Janucik
A FLORIDA CELEBRATION Compressed local watermelon salad with Waterkist Farms heirloom tomatoes, basil, B & W Farms baby arugula, feta cheese and cayenne vinaigrette
CHEF Gilberto Ramirez
THE CONCEPT Contemporary Italian cuisine emphasizing fresh ingredients including produce directly from the hotel’s organic garden and local farms
A FLORIDA CELEBRATION Pan-seared Florida snapper with Florida rock shrimp and Florida orange nage
RESTAURANT The Wave … of American Flavors
CHEF Frank Brough
THE CONCEPT Casual eatery blending seasonal American and international flavors, focusing on local and regional sourcing
A FLORIDA CELEBRATION Atlantic yellowfin tuna on salad greens grown in Fellsmere and tossed with Ruskin tomatoes and served with naturally raised eggs from Dade City
RESTAURANT Todd English’s bluezoo
CHEF Chris Windus
THE CONCEPT Coastal cuisine with international and New American culinary influences in an ethereal underwater Jeffrey Beers–designed space
A FLORIDA CELEBRATION Dirty South Swordfish—barbecue-rubbed swordfish from Florida’s east coast with Key West Littleneck clams, Hammock Hollow tomatoes, house-made smoked tasso risotto from Pasture Prime Farms pork and Cape Canaveral rock shrimp
Loews Royal Pacific Resort
RESTAURANT Emeril’s Tchoup Chop
CHEF Gregory Richie
THE CONCEPT Asian-Polynesian fusion cuisine in an exotic setting
A FLORIDA CELEBRATION Panko-crisped Palmetto Creek Farms pork cheek gallette with peaches and house-made mustard-coriander vinaigrette