Ten years ago, the flagship restaurant in a five-star hotel would proudly advertise Russian caviar and Maine lobster. With the local-seasonal-sustainable dining movement gaining momentum every minute, those restaurants now point out produce from their kitchen gardens and organic eggs from the farmer down the road.
By Lena Katz
Photo Credit: Blackberry Farm
Blackberry Farm in the Smoky Mountains is a charmingly elegant country inn set on a working farm. The 4200-acre property contains livestock herds, orchards, organic vegetable gardens and flower gardens; and its "artisan staff" includes a beekeeper, cheesemaker and butcher. Guest experiences range from guided tours with the master gardener to foraging expeditions into the hills to find wild mushrooms.
Photo Credit: Blackberry Farm
The restaurant at MacCallum House in Mendocino County wins over big city food critics and guests with its absolute commitment to organic, sustainably produced foods. Executive Chef Alan Kantor is the type to emerge from the kitchen during a lull, introduce himself to some guests, and tell them the story of their meal - using the purveyor map hanging in the front of the restaurant to provide geographic context. He also maintains a "Purveyors' Section" and a "Sustainability and Organics Forum" on the restaurant website.
Photo Credit: MacCallum House
The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain goes hands-on with the "garden to glass" concept, inviting guests to pluck their own citrus fruits from the on-site orchard. Oranges, grapefruits and tangelos get fresh-squeezed for breakfast juices, practically within sight of the trees from which they came. The hotel's cocktail list is based around the same fresh citrus juices, though guests aren't encouraged to pluck those fruits the same way. A meander around the orchard doesn't have quite the same appeal at night-time after two cocktails.
Photo Credit: The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain
In one of the most creative and rarefied locavore dining gimmicks we've seen, the Four Seasons Nevis invites guests on a Dive and Dine adventure. The chefs actually lead these undersea foraging/fishing tours, and by the time the guest is showered and ready for supper, his selection is grilled up and served in a barefoot-posh "beach barbecue" setting. Ironically, this offering is listed on the room service menu - perhaps to motivate people to turn that TV off and spend their Caribbean playtime getting SCUBA certified.
Photo Credit: Four Seasons Nevis
The new teaching kitchen at Lake Placid Lodge offers a specialty that many home chefs are curious yet cautious about: the delicious, delicate art of pastry. Executive Chef Nathan Rich oversees the cooking program, but Sous Pastry Chef Sarah Steffan can guide students through the finer points of pie-baking to soufflé-making. Specialized instruction typically occurs in a private class, but general group classes are held regularly in the afternoons. Check with the hotel for a current schedule - and no, you don't have to be a guest to participate.
Photo Credit: Lake Placid Lodge
When Buttermilk Falls Inn + Spa renovated last year, they took the opportunity to convert from a small kitchen garden to a 40-acre farm. They had always used herbs and berries from the garden, and the guest response was so positive, they decided to see how much of the menu they could provender from their own back yard. By next harvest, Chef Paul Kelly hopes to self-produce 30% of all ingredients, and ultimately, to trade with other local purveyors for the rest.
Photo Credit: Buttermilk Falls Inn + Spa
In the little-known region of Burgenland, Austria, regional, seasonal cuisine is a tradition, not a movement. Establishments like Gut Purbach, a tiny inn in the village of Purbach, operate under Michelin-starred chefs who work magic with ingredients sourced within a 20-mile radius. Gut Purbach chef/proprietor Max Stiegl is known for special-occasion "blind dinners" where he serves countless courses (up to 25 at an annual Christmas event), none of them identified or explained. Since one of Stiegl's specialties is "variety meats" (AKA offal), his devotees say it's much better if you don't even try to guess what you're eating till after it's finished.
Photo Credit: Gut Purbach
The "farm stay" concept suddenly seems much more romantic when it's in Tuscany, in an elegantly restored castle with its own olive grove. Castello di Vicarello is a working farm and offers hands-on experiences, ranging from private cooking classes to tastings of just-pressed olive oil to close encounters with organic vegetables.
Photo Credit: Castello di Vicarello
No matter how many farm acres are outside city limits, one never really expects to see an urban area's big-box hotel restaurants going local. It seems too old-school for a shiny highrise - how would the chefs and farmers even find each other? Chef de Cuisine Cyril Calmet of Peninsula Chicago is one of many who are making a special effort to get out to the farmers markets and source seasonal, locally produced fare to augment the regular menu. Calmet serves two different "market menus" nightly Thursday through Sunday.
Photo Credit: Peninsula Chicago
Chocolate and cheese are the only foods strongly associated with Switzerland - so it follows that Beau Rivage, one of the country's iconic hotels, has discovered a nutrition plan based around them. The diet, which is worked into a "weight loss" program at Cinq Mondes Spa, is called Chrononutrition. And it gets better and better, the closer you study it. It recommends cheese, bread and butter, and other "greasy, hearty" fare in the morning, and sugar in the afternoon. The only restrictions seem to be against lactose-containing foods and evening carbs. This pretty much rules out fettucine Alfredo - but since the diet was created by a Frenchman, we're not surprised.
Photo Credit: Beau Rivage
Although it's so new that the product hasn't been formally photographed, Jade Mountain in St. Lucia is rolling out its own line of specialty chocolates. The resort is quick to emphasize that this isn't a mere private label; the chocolates will actually be made from estate-grown cacao beans. According to a representative, Jade Mountain has always grown a substantial amount of cacao and sold it to outside producers. With the farm-to-table movement in full swing, this sweet little innovation is sure to prove lure some guests into cheating on their spa diet.
Photo Credit: Jade Mountain