The Shortest Way to a Guest’s Heart is Through Food
Unless incredibly eco minded, the majority of guests don’t want to hear about a hotel’s greening efforts around reductions in water, waste, energy and chemicals. Happily, the same is not true when it comes to food—a good story around food that’s local creates a unique and memorable dining experience, and adds great value to a guest stay.
Letting the guest in on a story about the fungi forager who brings locally foraged mushrooms or fiddleheads to your menu, or on the Nubian goats at a neighboring farm that produce the chevre for your velvety cheese cake, just makes food taste better.
Celebrating food that is local, and exposing a sense of your hotel’s community, with support for local vendors and growers, is an important part of sustainability. The Locavore movement is wide spread and popular. Guests tend to be vitally interested in the source of the food you serve. Giving credit to, and adding the names of the farms, foragers, fishermen and vendors to your restaurant menus not only adds color and local interest while supporting your community, but assures guests that your food is fresh and nutritious.
Weekly ‘Taste of Maine’ Presentations
Sharing what is unique about your community, and introducing visitors to local people, traditions and local food makes it a richer guest experience, according to executive chef Mitchell Kaldrovich at Sea Glass restaurant at Inn by the Sea, on the coast of Maine. He invites local vendors and producers to talk about what they do. Weekly “Taste of Maine” presentations for hotel guests include overviews and tastings by micro brewers, growers or lobstermen. Guests have the opportunity to chat with distillers who make vodka from Maine potatoes, learn about the life of an artisan cheese maker, or hear what it takes to haul lobster on Casco Bay.
During the growing season, Chef Kaldrovich hosts an Al Fresco, four course Farmer’s Table Dinner on the seaside lawn, featuring whatever happens to be growing at neighboring farms, and a day boat catch from the Gulf of Maine.
You won’t find Chilean Sea Bass, or cod on the menu when you visit ocean view Sea Glass. Alongside his essential lobster tasting menu, or signature Gulf of Maine Seafood Paella, Chef Kaldrovich’s day boat catch and evening menus feature underutilized seafood, such as Whiting, fresh from Maine’s coastal waters. The chef challenges guests to broaden their pallets with unexpected flavors, and enjoy lesser known but perfectly delicious, local fish as a result of community collaboration around sustainable seafood. Whiting proved to be a huge hit this past summer.
Bringing community members together to work in collaboration can benefit both the environment, the community at large and becomes a compelling story around food for your guest.
Inn by the Sea Green Lodging Certified
Chef Kaldrovich has been celebrating Maine fare and locally sourced food since he opened Sea Glass at Inn by the Sea in 2008. The Inn by the Sea, a beach destination, has long been recognized for green hospitality initiatives, and has been awarded both a Green Lodging Certification from Maine’s DEP, and a Silver LEED certification for their SPA.
But Kaldrovich has now become a part of a broader collaboration around a sustainable seafood program that began with research from Portland’s nonprofit Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI), a handful of knowledgeable local fishermen and four renowned restaurants from Portland—Forestreet, Havana South, The Salt Exchange, and Sea Glass at Inn by the Sea. The Greater Portland Convention and Visitor’s Bureau is also on board to help market the program.
This collaboration, led by Jen Levin and Sam Grimley from GMRI, has been meeting to identify underutilized, but otherwise wonderfully delectable seafood species from Gulf of Maine. The goal is to preserve overly fished species, and to highlight and create demand for less expensive and underutilized seafood that is delicious and abundant.
It is hoped the awareness will also benefit fishermen economically. Fishermen currently can get as little as 5 cents a pound for perfectly delicious seafood that often goes to foreign markets or bait simply because there is no regional demand. Bringing awareness to underutilized seafood also opens up opportunity for inexpensive protein sources for low income families.
Five Types of Fish Selected
Starting with GMRI’s research on local species, highly animated conversations between the chefs and seasoned fishermen ensued. The group debated issues related to their own experiences around underutilized seafood with criteria around abundance, life span, diversity, habitat, seasonality, taste and texture, the kind of treatment needed on the fishing boats for restaurant quality seafood, and finally, the experience for both chefs and diners preparing and eating the species respectively. They finally narrowed the field to five choices. The seasonality for each species allows for availability in abundance all year. The five choices include: Northern Shrimp, January through March; Atlantic Mackerel, March through May; Silver Hake/Whiting, July through September; Atlantic Pollock, October through December; and Red Fish, June through September.
Portland is a foodie destination, and these well known chefs and their trendy restaurants add the “sizzle” needed to bring broad attention to underutilized seafood. By creating mouth watering recipes for their menus, it is hoped perceptions will be altered, and demand for lesser known fish increased.
The delicious recipes developed by the four Portland restaurants and cooking tips on how to prepare the underutilized seafood were launched with fanfare at Harvest on the Harbor, the Greater Portland CVB’s Food and Wine festival, in October 2011. See www.harvestontheharbor.com. The festival’s Seafood Splash event featured the GMRI research, conversations with the fishermen, and included tastings prepared by the restaurants’ chefs.
Reaching out to local agencies and collaborating with competitors can benefit the entire community and have a larger impact on environmental issues. And it has proved to be a delectably compelling “fish story” for guests at Inn by the Sea.