Food. Health. Community.
Hi Healthy Eating Minnesota Network folks!
My name is Amber, and if I haven’t introduced myself already, I’m acting as the current network administrator for this site (so don’t hesitate to shoot me a message if you have any questions!). As such, I have the opportunity to talk with local innovators working to strengthen Minnesota's food systems! ;-)
I recently chatted with Jasen Fontaine, the Executive Chef at the Minneapolis Marriott Southwest. Jasen has been cooking since he was 15, but lately he has been heading up a bold initiative to increase the amount of local food being served at the Minneapolis Marriott Southwest. And, no surprise, as his passion for local food grew, so did his desire to start an on-site garden!
What was the impetus for starting to grow your own foods for the Marriott? What do you currently grow and serve?
My drive to grow our own food was to see how we could take "buying local" to a whole new level. I've also felt that the upcoming chefs and the general population have no idea where food comes from and how it is put on their plate. I wanted to use the gardens at the hotel to teach myself, my staff, our guest, and really anyone how wants to learn how to grow their own food from seed. We converted a rarely used storage room into a room fit for growing our own food.
Right now we are going lemon basil, midnight basil, sweet basil, jalapeños, habaneros, red and green peppers, heirloom lettuce, cilantro, parsley, cherry tomato, roma tomato beef steak tomato, heirloom tomato, zucchini, squash, green onion, cucumber, lavender, and rosemary. We are making weekly specials from the items that we harvest from the gardens. We also custom grow for groups in banquets. We use the produce and herbs at any chance we get!
What has been the response from customers? From other hotel employees?
We have had a wonderful response from guest at the hotel. We have a lot of guest that stay with us every week, so they have been able to watch and experience this project each step of the way. The interest and level of engagement has blown me away. I get guests coming up telling me how much fun this has been for them. The truth is that it is just a blast for me to be able to talk to our guest watch their faces and excitement. I love to give tours and explain how our hydroponic system works.
We also try to keep guests updated on what we are growing, harvesting, and serving from the gardens through our Facebook page. Almost all of our culinary team in involved in the gardens at some level. They are just as excited to be able to grow food as the guest are to watch them grow it! It really gives a different approach to our team and a great learning experience. We have seen the creativity of our chefs go through the roof now that they can just go pick something out of the garden and begin to cook.
It's been so popular, we also started growing in a greenhouse that guests can see from the dining area.
What tips or words of wisdom do you have for other large businesses or restaurants wishing to grow and serve their own food? What were the biggest challenges? The biggest rewards?
The biggest tip that I would give is to do your research before you get started. Find people who have been successful at what you are trying to do. Do not think that you will find someone with all the answers though. Each set up and garden is different. You will have to try and try again so don't give up.
I don't think that it is as hard or takes as much time and space a people think. I believe that for most businesses, the biggest challenge will be funding. We found great ways to make it a lot cheaper for ourselves.
The other challenge is just to have the drive and passion for making the best quality food, the most local food, and keeping honest in what you are trying to accomplish. Our greatest rewards comes from seeing the faces of my associates as they come out with the first armful of freshly harvest produce going back to the kitchen. Seeing the guest reaction to all of our work is wonderful. Just being able to say that not only did I cook an outstanding meal, but to also say that I grew the food in the meal is a huge reward.
What's your favorite dish to make with the food that you grow?
I think that my favorite dish is a caprese salad. It is so simple, fresh, and tasty. The salad consists of heirloom lettuce, heirloom tomato, lemon basil, fresh mozzarella (which we buy local), balsamic vinaigrette, sea salt, and fresh pepper.
What's next? What are your hopes for growing, preparing, and serving on-site food in the next year? Five years?
We are hoping that by this time next year we will be able to have built on our current hydroponic system and double the size of our greenhouse. We'd also like to expand our garden beds and grow a rooftop garden.
We are also hoping that we will be able to have 6 bee hives. We are looking at becoming licensed to brew and sell our own beer which we would grow the hops and use the honey from our bees!
I would really like to build a partnership with local schools and use our hotel as a place where we can teach people about agriculture and being self-sustaining. Within five years I hope that we are able to be teaching people how they can create systems in their businesses and homes.
Anything else you'd like to share?
For the past 10 months have been brewing our own label of natural soda. We bottle and label all the soda here at the hotel. We have created 6 flavors: Gingerbite, 5801 root beer, black cherry, sarsaparilla, cream soda, and lemon-lime. They have also been a big hit with guests! Making the labels on property allow us to make custom bottle for group and VIP's that come to the hotel.
We welcome people to schedule a time to stop by the hotel and look at all the cool things that we are working on.
Then stop by the restaurant and enjoy an all-natural soda and a locally sourced meal!
Thanks, Jasen! Have more questions for Jasen or his team? Send him a message!
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