Some Orlando hotels source so local, the chefs pick it themselves.
By Amy Drew Thompson
Orlando dining is not immune to trends. In fact, we set them. Celebrity chefs including Emeril Lagasse, Masaharu Morimoto and Norman Van Aken have set up shop here and we've got more James Beard nominees than you can shake a stick at. Local sourcing has been on Orlando's culinary radar for years, but it doesn't get more local than your own yard. That's why many hotel-based venues have created on-site gardens where herbs, vegetables and more are cultivated and used daily in the menus.
No strangers to the concept; staffers here have been tending an outside garden for a decade. And the property's Italian restaurant, Trevi, boasts an indoor wall garden. "Guests can walk through the outdoor garden at any time and pick herbs to taste," says Executive Chef Robert Ash. "We do chef's table dinners and will pick right from the wall in front of the guests, then utilize the product in the dishes we serve."
Three years ago, staffers transformed an unused space into what is now a beautiful garden that not only supplies their farm-to-table restaurant, Siro, with fresh product, but has become a popular space for events. "It creates an amazing environment for parties, private dinners, wine dinners and even a space for wandering hotel guests to have a quiet, sunny spot to relax," says Executive Chef Greg Picard.
This property's outdoor garden has been a staple for culinary staffers for a decade, growing a host of herbs from rosemary to chives, bay leaves to curly parsley, says Executive Chef Jorge Oliviera. "The herb garden is coordinated into our outdoor landscaping; staffers can harvest from it at any given time. We use them in many of our marinades and with grilled items. For example, every night we roast our prime rib using a marinade that incorporates our fresh thyme and rosemary."
This property's garden, a newly refurbished patch of fresh green in a cozy courtyard, is a welcoming place for guests to relax, says David Didzunas, executive chef. "It shows them that we're really passionate about what we do, and we enjoy having some obscure herbs and flowers that we can't get that easily - things like pineapple sage, for example."
Herb garden? Hardly! How about a whole farm where kale, cauliflower and kumquats grow and fresh eggs are collected daily? Having the farm and other gardens on hand ... sets this property apart from others," says Jason Shapiro, chef de partie for Whisper Creek Farm: The Kitchen. "The process gives me and other chefs at Grande Lakes the ability to really broaden not only culinary horizons, but to expand guests culinary comfort zones while still giving them a relaxing and inviting sensation during their meal."
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Amy Drew Thompson has spent more than 20 years as a journalist and roughly two decades as a Floridian. A roller coaster enthusiast, she readily admits there is fun to be had amid the theme-park madness, but has found magic, as well, in the outer-lying reaches of Mickey's long shadow. She is a full-time freelancer, an editorial jack-of-all-trades and the Orlando Local Expert for USA Today's 10Best.com