Hotels are 'going local' with rooftop gardens, beekeeping

Tanya Mohn / New York Times News Service

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David Garcelon, a chef, says he enjoys checking on the little alpine strawberries, Malabar spinach, mojito mint and several varieties of wine grapes in his small garden. But he is not out in his backyard; he’s on the 14th-floor roof of the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto, where the view is of the steel, glass and concrete of nearby skyscrapers.

“You can just grab a handful of ripe tomatoes and they’re ready to add to a dish for a small lunch for a board meeting,” said Garcelon, executive chef of the hotel. “It is a much more interesting way to eat. It is almost inevitably fresher and better.”

Eating local, homegrown cuisine is not new. There are plenty of practicing “locavores,” and restaurants have been serving fresh, local food for a while. But now, hotels are “going local,” establishing partnerships with area farmers and growing food in rooftop gardens as they begin to cater to travelers seeking to eat healthily on the road.

Nor are the hotels’ efforts limited to growing fruits and vegetables. Some hotels are now keeping bees, whose honey sweetens tea and soups, desserts and cocktails.

“There is almost not a more versatile product,” Garcelon said. The hotel installed hives in 2008, and last year harvested about 450 pounds of honey.

Mariano Stellner, a corporate director of food and beverage for the hotel’s parent, Fairmont Hotels&Resorts, said the company encouraged its chefs to “stay local, stay seasonal, whenever possible.”

Fairmont’s property in Montreal, the Queen Elizabeth, for example, adopted a goat whose milk is used to make fresh cheese, and the Fairmont in Washington features honey-based drinks. Eleven Fairmont hotels in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Kenya and China keep bees, overseen by local groups or resident beekeepers, and almost half of the brand’s 64 properties worldwide keep gardens.

“Hotels have long had ornamental gardens,” said Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, and author of “What to Eat” (North Point Press, 2006). But food-producing ones will “make them more friendly and help connect with the community, in ways I don’t think hotels have done in the past.”

The number of hotels with working gardens and bees is quickly rising, said Bjorn Hanson, divisional dean of the Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University.

“It is kind of the ultimate version of local,” he said. “It creates a positive image, and people will pay a premium for it.”

The Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile has its own garden, too. But it also cures its own meats, makes its own cheeses and pastas, and even stomps grapes in the lobby (with guests’ help) to create wines, said Myk Banas, executive chef and director of food and beverage operations. “If you order mac and cheese, we make the macaroni, and we make the cheese and the cheese sauce.”

The hotel also has bees in its ninth-floor rooftop garden, and some of the honey is used in Rooftop Honey Wheat Beer, made in partnership with a local brewery. “It is so local, it’s only sold on one block,” Banas said.

Some hotels do not have their own gardens but establish close relationships with nearby farms.

“We change our dinner menu up until 5 p.m., depending on what products we get,” said Jason McLeod, the executive chef the Elysian Hotel in Chicago, which opened in December. It is more difficult than ordering everything through one distributor; because the hotel deals with a number of local farms, he said, “on some nights, we call 20 to 30 farms to place orders.”

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David Garcelon, a chef, says he enjoys checking on the little alpine strawberries, Malabar spinach, mojito mint and several varieties of wine grapes in his small garden. But he is not out in his backyard; he’s on the 14th-floor roof of the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto, where the view is of the steel, glass and concrete of nearby skyscrapers.

“You can just grab a handful of ripe tomatoes and they’re ready to add to a dish for a small lunch for a board meeting,” said Garcelon, executive chef of the hotel. “It is a much more interesting way to eat. It is almost inevitably fresher and better.”

Eating local, homegrown cuisine is not new. There are plenty of practicing “locavores,” and restaurants have been serving fresh, local food for a while. But now, hotels are “going local,” establishing partnerships with area farmers and growing food in rooftop gardens as they begin to cater to travelers seeking to eat healthily on the road.

Nor are the hotels’ efforts limited to growing fruits and vegetables. Some hotels are now keeping bees, whose honey sweetens tea and soups, desserts and cocktails.

“There is almost not a more versatile product,” Garcelon said. The hotel installed hives in 2008, and last year harvested about 450 pounds of honey.

Mariano Stellner, a corporate director of food and beverage for the hotel’s parent, Fairmont Hotels&Resorts, said the company encouraged its chefs to “stay local, stay seasonal, whenever possible.”

Fairmont’s property in Montreal, the Queen Elizabeth, for example, adopted a goat whose milk is used to make fresh cheese, and the Fairmont in Washington features honey-based drinks. Eleven Fairmont hotels in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Kenya and China keep bees, overseen by local groups or resident beekeepers, and almost half of the brand’s 64 properties worldwide keep gardens.

“Hotels have long had ornamental gardens,” said Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, and author of “What to Eat” (North Point Press, 2006). But food-producing ones will “make them more friendly and help connect with the community, in ways I don’t think hotels have done in the past.”

The number of hotels with working gardens and bees is quickly rising, said Bjorn Hanson, divisional dean of the Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University.

“It is kind of the ultimate version of local,” he said. “It creates a positive image, and people will pay a premium for it.”

The Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile has its own garden, too. But it also cures its own meats, makes its own cheeses and pastas, and even stomps grapes in the lobby (with guests’ help) to create wines, said Myk Banas, executive chef and director of food and beverage operations. “If you order mac and cheese, we make the macaroni, and we make the cheese and the cheese sauce.”

The hotel also has bees in its ninth-floor rooftop garden, and some of the honey is used in Rooftop Honey Wheat Beer, made in partnership with a local brewery. “It is so local, it’s only sold on one block,” Banas said.

Some hotels do not have their own gardens but establish close relationships with nearby farms.

“We change our dinner menu up until 5 p.m., depending on what products we get,” said Jason McLeod, the executive chef the Elysian Hotel in Chicago, which opened in December. It is more difficult than ordering everything through one distributor; because the hotel deals with a number of local farms, he said, “on some nights, we call 20 to 30 farms to place orders.”

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