Photo:Whisper Creek Kitchen and Brewery at the J.W. Marriott at Grande Lakes in Orlando grows its own vegetables. Inset: Whisper Creek's harvest salad
More Florida hotel restaurants feature their own produce
Every luxury hotel in Florida worth its stars or diamonds features vast greenswards, riotous hibiscus, rows of Washington Palms, endless coleus. Now, along with the decorative foliage, guests may find vines of cucumbers, peas on tripods, flowering squash plants, pepper bushes, blueberries, cauliflower and beds of cabbages — all destined for the hotel’s restaurant.
The distance from farm to table is now measured in feet, not miles. One of the most extensive hotel farms is the 7,000-sq.-ft. parcel at Whisper Creek Kitchen and Brewery at the J.W. Marriott at Grande Lakes in Orlando. The 998- room hotel that shares 500 acres with the Ritz-Carlton now has a vegetable garden like the potagers of old French homes and restaurants.
Even in summer months that make most Florida farmers wilt, the gardeners at the Marriott eke out enough to keep chefs Hugo Pena Venegas and Jason Shapiro enthused. As at many restaurants, they have a chalkboard featuring the day’s special offerings, but instead of listing their farm suppliers, they post their own fresh harvest: Leaf greens, citrus and herbs.
On their menu, they underline the ingredients of every snack, small plate and dessert that grew on their property — eggplants, parsley, spinach, chives, blood orange, datil peppers. Indeed, even the fried egg on the ham sandwich comes from Whisper Creek’s own chickens, 40 of them started with a gift from Orlando’s Lake Meadow Farm. The flock is restricted to egg production, however: Whisper Creek roasts chicken, but not its own.
The hotel even maintains beehives and makes enough honey for its kitchens and signature honeywheat ale.
The new crops are actually the second stage of agriculture at the Marriott. When Maine chef Melissa Kelly opened Primo at the hotel more than 10 years ago she installed a large garden of raised beds to grow crops that were not available. They are so close that you can see them from the balcony of her restaurant.
In the last decade, Florida has slowly acquired more truck farms and purveyors, yet the chefs are particularly excited about using their own crops. Shapiro, who often picks his own, says he’s only been stung a few times working with the bees. Venegas has contributed seeds for two of his favorite Peruvian peppers, aji omnicolor and aji amarillo. “There’s always something coming up, like great squash blossoms, and we need to get them on the menu.’’
The farm and the brewery are among the inspirations for dishes — such as using their own Okinawa spinach and Ethiopian kale in a pesto or creating a parsley dressing with raisins and capers for hanger steak on oat risotto.
To conserve the magic of their garden, the chefs also preserve some of their produce as jars of caramelized eggplant, pickled vegetables and sauerkraut.
Below are other hotel restaurants that grow their own.
Breakers, Palm Beach
In Palm Beach, the grand old Breakers’ “green cuisine’’ is on display for guests in beds as beautiful as the rest of the landscaping. The Breakers grows its own radish, corn, basil and arugula as well as tomatoes, broccoli, spinach, mustard greens and kohlrabi.
Palm Hotel & Spa, Miami Beach
At the Palm Hotel & Spa, chef Venoy Rogers III sources local produce and has also installed a restaurant garden next to the tiki bar with six beds of herbs and produce picked daily for food and drink. Those tomatoes, greens, lemon grass and Thai basil on your plate and in your drink came from a few feet away. Tours can be arranged.
Txokos Basque Kitchen, Orlando
Most non-hotel restaurants have only room to grow basil and pepper on the porch or greens in a “vertical garden.” But chefs at Txokos Basque Kitchen in Orlando’s East End Market can walk outdoors to the raised beds in front of the market to collect the greens.
Bern’s Steak House, Tampa
The state’s oldest restaurant-owned organic farm belongs to Bern’s Steak House and its affiliated properties. When it started more than 50 years ago, owners Bern and Gert Laxer did their own plowing, planting and mulching around their home 10 miles north of the restaurant. Crops grew so well that the Laxers sometimes gave diners bags of okra to take home.