Is Farm-To-Hotel The Latest Lodging Trend?


At home there’s the backyard garden, the local co-op farmers market and the stash of homemade pickles, but on the road, what’s a food-loving locavore to do? Track down a farm-to-hotel of course.

Hotel restaurants aren’t normally at the top of the list of a traveler’s places to eat, but sometimes time and efficiency leave you eating at the dining room on the first floor of wherever you’re staying, especially if you’re a business traveler. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that the food you’re getting comes from close by?

The New York Times reports that that’s exactly what some travelers are looking for.

At a visit last winter to the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel in Alberta, Canada, Ms. Driscoll said she was happy to discover a French fries dish called poutine, made with Alberta beef, that was served in the hotel’s lounge. “It gave me a unique feeling of a sense of place,” she said. “Local foods give you a great feeling of culture in a very short period of time, especially when you’re traveling on business.”

But it’s not just specialty and boutique hotels that are taking on the trend. Hyatt Hotels Corporation started a food initiative last May that requires that its chefs at about 120 hotels in the US, Canada and Caribbean incorporate at least five local ingredients in their menus; “local” being defined as within 50 miles of the hotel location.

That doesn’t make the entire restaurant a hub for locavores, but it’s certainly a start.

Via: New York Times

[Photo Credit: Anna Brones]

Mayotte’s Zam-Zam: Restaurant And Launchpad

mayotteLast month I visited Mayotte, an island located between Madagascar and Mozambique in the Mozambique Channel. Mayotte is part of the Comoros archipelago, but unlike the rest of the Comoros, it is part of France.

In 1975, when the rest of the Comoros became independent, Mayotte elected to remain with France. In 2011, the association got even tighter when Mayotte became an overseas department of France. But despite its integration into France, Mayotte is a world apart from the mainland. Its population is largely Sunni Muslim and its most common language is not French but Shimaore, a tongue related to Swahili.

Mayotte is incredibly lush. There are lemurs and lizards on the land, dolphins skipping along the surface of the sea, and huge bats with wingspans as wide as eagles hovering above. The diving and snorkeling is world-class, reefs buzzing with life. The tourist infrastructure is operated largely by métros, or French people from metropolitan France. It would be easy to spend an entire vacation there enveloped by a “métro” bubble. It became clear very quickly that we would have to make an effort to engage with Comorian culture.

I was keen to try Comorian food. Food is a good route to a sense of culture – maybe the best. The Petit Futé guide to Mayotte lists a favorable review of Zam-Zam, a restaurant in the southern town of Bandrélé, conveniently near our guesthouse. One afternoon we set out to find it. After a 15-minute walk we came across a sign for it. A man saw us looking around and pointed to a yellow shack on a side street. He told us the restaurant would reopen later that evening.That man turned out to be Abdou, the owner of Zam-Zam. A friendly fellow originally from the island of Grand Comore, Abdou was charming and eager to chat. His English is good, too. On an island where few people speak any English at all, this was appreciated.

The food at Zam-Zam was fantastic. There was coconut chicken with a delicious, perfumed rice, mataba (cassava leaves cooked in coconut milk with fish) and pilao, a spicy chicken and rice dish sharpened with coriander and cumin. This was the best meal we had in Mayotte without a doubt. It was so good in fact that we returned later in the week for lunch.

Abdou is an entrepreneur. When he brought over the check he handed us a brochure with photos of his rental property and restaurant in Bangoi-Kouni in the north of Grand Comore, the most populous island in the independent country of the Comoros. The images got under my skin. Shot in a friendly, amateur vein, they depict white sand beaches, a simple thatched cabin nearly enveloped by equatorial greenery and Abdou’s son stretching out his arms in front of a lake. The brochure suggests “sea excursions, traditional fishing, cooking classes and musical evenings.”

Mayotte may not be major tourist destination but it has an easy, familiar infrastructure for visitors. Independent Comoros, however, can claim far less in the way of tourist infrastructure. And this is why Abdou’s brochure is of such interest. An invitation turns difficult places into easier ones. Abdou’s brochure, it seemed to me, was a true invitation to take the plunge and visit Grand Comore.

In other words, if his kitchen can take such good care of me on Mayotte, I’m quite sure his rental house would do the job on Grand Comore.

This is one piece of marketing collateral I won’t be recycling anytime soon.

[Image: Alex Robertson Textor]

Edmonton: Three Boars, Perfect Cocktails

edmonton

Before a recent trip to Edmonton I did my standard restaurant research. All trails seemed to lead to a place called Three Boars Eatery, located happily enough just a few blocks from my hotel in the neighborhood of Old Strathcona. I left a message requesting a booking the day before my arrival and two minutes later my phone pulsed. “Hi. You called. We’re full upstairs tomorrow night but there’s always room in the bar.”

The next night, after an airport shuttle ride through snow-choked streets and a quick check-in, I entered Three Boars’ bar area. It was populated solely by men, all of whom sported either a beard or a plaid shirt. Some, like me, boasted both. It felt like a homecoming. I overheard talk of poorly-behaved roommates at the far end of the bar, while the two gymrats next to me discussed in very technical terms the effect of steroids on a friend’s growth. The Rolling Stones ranted in the background; in the foreground, the service was attentive and nerdy. A revolving cast of three waiters asked questions and probed, made suggestions, and explained that the menu changes several times a week, sometimes daily.

Three Boars is about offal and local provenance. It’s full-fat and high protein. Three Boars is relaxed but it is also self-conscious, telling guests where all their food and drinks originate. I sipped local beers (fine, though nothing truly exceptional) and ate several small and very good courses: smoked pork jowls with grainy mustard, smoked steelhead trout, and bacon-wrapped figs stuffed with blue cheese. So far so good.

Then came the truly exceptional part of the evening, the part that made me sit up: a miso-braised pork belly sitting on steel-cut oats cooked in dashi, with scattered pickled mushroom, roe, and seaweed. The flavors were bold and beautifully balanced. The result was a wildly delicious and quite comforting savory breakfast, but for dinner. It entered the upper reaches of my global favorite food items chart with a bang.

Naturally I asked my waiters where else I should eat. “The food community is small in Edmonton, so everyone knows each other,” said one. To illustrate, he pointed out a chef sitting at the far end of the bar and then grabbed a fellow who was just leaving. “And this is Tarquin, the best bartender in Edmonton. You should have him make you cocktails.”Two nights prior, Tarquin Melnyk had won a Canadian Professional Bartenders Association prize as the best bartender in Alberta. He suggested that I visit Manor Casual Bistro, the restaurant where he tends bar, which I did the following night. I tried three of his complicated cocktails, thinking that each looked on paper as if it had too many ingredients, only to be walloped each time. These are remarkable, ambitious cocktails, some with either semi-exotic components (elderflower liqueur); others with remarkably exotic ingredients (phytoplankton).

Melnyk is personable well beyond reasonable customer service expectations. I had the feeling that, had I requested it, he could have devoted an evening to discussing new developments in the world of craft cocktails with me.

Edmonton’s dosage of friendliness was pleasing for sure, but what made my few days in Alberta’s frozen capital downright exciting was the vibe of being invited in, however briefly, to spend some time with a group of people making good food and drink for each other all bitter winter long.

[Image: Flickr | Hobolens]

California Restaurant Month Kicks Off In January

chez panisseThe land of goat milk, arugula, and honey continues to prosper, and no surprise, given that California’s 81,700+ farms produce nearly half of all domestically-grown crops.

Thus, the third-annual California Restaurant Month kicks off in January, offering up 33 destinations where visitors and locals alike can savor the flavor of the nation’s most cutting-edge culinary state (sorry, New York).

Select California restaurants will offer special dining promotions such as prix-fixe menus, wine pairings, and other treats designed to promote the state as both food and vacation destination. Add-ons to culinary tourism are available, including skiing, surfing and spa visits.

Nine new dining destinations are a part of the 2013 promotion, including Berkeley (above photo is of the legendary Chez Panisse, now in its 40th year), Beverly Hills, Downtown Long Beach and Santa Monica. Established locales include the wine regions of Temecula Valley, and Santa Maria, Monterey, and Santa Ynez Counties, and small-farm epicenters such as Marin and Shasta counties.

[Photo credit: Robert Holmes]

Tawlet: Lebanese Locavore Love

tawlet

On my first visit to Beirut’s Tawlet, I stopped to ask a shopkeeper directions. “Tawlet?” she verified. I nodded. “C’est très bon,” with a delicate flutter of the fingers accompanying her très, before she pointed me in the right direction. I’d heard great things about Tawlet for quite some time. The shopkeeper’s gesture was the icing on the cake. I knew the way I know my own name that this meal was going to be exceptional.

I found Tawlet at the rather inauspicious end of an industrial cul-de-sac in Mar Mikhael, an up-and-coming neighborhood with an exciting slate of new shops, some of them quite innovative.

It was still on the early side but I couldn’t wait. I walked into Tawlet before the restaurant opened for lunch and sat patiently for the wait staff to finish setting things up. A Saudi television crew was taping interviews of the day’s chefs. Just when my hunger had reached epic proportions, just when I thought I wouldn’t be able to wait any longer, a distinguished looking man approached me in English and told me I could begin to eat. He carried himself like a proprietor. And as it turned out, he was Kamal Mouzawak, the head honcho. I introduced myself and we chatted briefly.

Mouzawak has pioneered and tended a food revolution in Lebanon. Souk El Tayeb is the umbrella organization behind his efforts. It has spawned the Beirut Farmers Market, founded in 2004, Dekenet, a farmers shop, established in 2006 and regional food festivals, which followed in 2007. Tawlet, interwoven into the other Souk El Tayeb endeavors, opened its doors in 2009.The restaurant is an emporium of fresh, organic, and very local food from all over Lebanon. It is set up essentially as a farmers table. Different individual chefs or cooperatives host the buffet every day, working with a few permanent kitchen support staff. The result is essentially home-cooked food that reaches a clientele far wider than most home-cooked food tends to do. The presence of different chefs means that every lunch is different. (I didn’t think twice about returning for a second lunch the day following my discovery.) Including VAT, the buffet costs 44,000 Lebanese pounds ($29). Water and dessert come with the meal. Not included are regional wines, some very good.

The chefs-for-the-day come from all over Lebanon, bringing local variations in recipe and ingredients to the attention of a wider audience, elevating local regional culinary traditions to national attention. Tawlet publishes weekly menus online, which detail upcoming menus and chefs. On occasions Mouzawak himself does a turn as guest chef. Tawlet also offers brunch on Saturday.

What Mouzawak has done with Souk El Tayeb has major far-reaching implications. He has established a blueprint for encouraging and supporting local food traditions, for transforming vernacular food into recognition-deserving “cuisines” and for giving a wide range of cooks and chefs exposure to larger markets. This blueprint is broadly applicable to other countries and territories. It is a model for championing sustainable local food traditions.

[Image: Alex Robertson Textor]