Hotel chefs embrace local, organic food trend

An increasing number of hotels are touting restaurants that offer organic and locally grown foods, much in the same way they would promote pillow-top mattresses and in-room wireless Internet.

Blue on Blue, a poolside restaurant at the Avalon Hotel in Beverly Hills, celebrates Earth Day next week with a $55 prix fixe menu showcasing organic and sustainable food from local farms, paired with flights of biodynamic and organic wines for another $25. Early risers can enjoy the Beverly Hills Breakfast, consisting of fresh fruit, bee pollen, wildfire honey, an organic muffin and banana soy smoothie.

How California. But hotels eager to please health-conscious and environmentally aware diners stretch beyond the Golden State.

Chef Ryan Hardy, a 2008 James Beard "Best Chef" regional finalist, oversees Montagna inside the swank Little Nell in Aspen, Colo. Last year he purchased a 15-acre farm outside the city and now supplies Montagna's vegetables, pork, eggs and some of its chicken. He also makes his own cheese.

As recently as four years ago, most of the food was trucked in to the 20-room Canoe Bay resort in Chetek, Wis., a Relais & Chateaux member. Now 80% to 90% is local, because owners Lisa and Dan Dobrowolski serve only organic products, mostly supplied on-site. Guests can forage for mushrooms, ramps (wild leeks) and blackberries on 280 acres with chef Tom Fischer, who also helps customers pick herbs such as lemongrass, cilantro, rosemary, mint and lemon verbena for their dinners.

Size makes it easier for the smaller hotels to offer more organic cuisine. But it can still be done at larger properties. Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, which has 55 U.S. properties, has promoted local cuisine since the late 1980s. Menus must describe the source of ingredients and indicate when something is organic; every bar and restaurant must offer two organic wines.

The chain stresses local first, then organic, says Serge Simard, Fairmont's vice president of food and beverage. He says his chefs and directors work closely with suppliers and ask local farmers to grow a specific item organically for them.

"We don't want to import blueberries from New Zealand because they are organic," he says. "We're saying (to our chefs), 'Can you do it as much as possible?' "

The Marriott chain is taking a similar tack, introducing a program that encourages its chefs to use locally sourced food. The initiative begins this fall with the 16 JW Marriott properties in the USA, says spokeswoman Laurie Goldstein.

The switch to organic and locally produced food comes at a cost. Scott Garrett, executive chef at Blue on Blue, points out that a pint of organic raspberries cost $4.50 compared with $2.25 for non-organic. But he and others say that customers will make up the difference.

"Is it more expensive?" Simard asks. "Yes, but it is something that the guests are more than willing to pay for."