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Mr. Sanchez

Food & Beverage

Benefits of a Downtown Chicago Marriott's Rooftop Garden and Beehives

By Frank Sanchez, Executive Chef, Chicago Downtown Marriott

In late-March, we begin the seedling process of planting product that can be grown indoors, along with our rotating crop of micro-greens. Micro-greens have been an instrumental part of our operation because it gives us produce throughout the winter months. There's always the option to buy from hot houses locally and throughout the country, but when we can grow product ourselves, reduce our carbon footprint and create an interesting narrative for our hotel and restaurants, we do it.

The thought of buying items from the place I just left to garnish a plate does not appeal to me as a chef or as a steward of the planet. I would rather educate the customer about our growing operation and see the surprise and curiosity arise on their faces. This is, in-fact, one of the reasons we spend time planting and growing on-site. The aesthetics are very important to us as the rooftop garden can be seen from 36 of the hotel's 46 floors and from the fitness center, which is located on the same floor as the rooftop garden.

As we begin to plan for the seedlings, we keep the beauty of the garden a priority. That, along with the menu planning, is extremely important to us. Guests appreciate the visuals of the garden of course, but also like to know that there are crops growing in the facility. The neat rows and tight lines in the boxes represent that there is a plan in place and that our garden is an extension of our kitchen.

As for the break-down of our products, we grow about one-third of our own seedlings, one-third direct sow (planting in soil), and the rest are bought from organic nursery. This does a few things for us.

The seedlings we grow provide us with a great assortment of heirloom and unique seeds. These seeds give us an opportunity to experiment with growing product in Chicago's climate as well as utilize various seed banks for "native" seeds. Growing items that are "native" gives us yet another story to tell, but also makes us feel like we are giving back to the very land we are not growing in, if that makes sense.

Using direct sow gives us an opportunity to grow different, seasonal items. We can rotate between carrots, radishes, beets and other various seasonal root vegetables. This part of the rooftop garden is always evolving and is more fluid when it comes to menu options. We can have pickled root vegetables one week and the next it may be coriander pickled carrots or horseradish pickled turnips.

The list of 2017 produce grown in the rooftop garden includes basil, beets, carrots, cauliflower, chives, eggplant, lavender, mint, onion, oregano, peppers, radish, rosemary, sage, swiss chard, tarragon and thyme.

Our nursery plants give us the jump-start we need when the ground finally thaws. As a general tradition in Chicago, you don't plant until Mother's Day so this presents a short time frame for menu planning and utilizing a garden space to its full potential. This gives us about five months of product to plan around. This is important because June is the midpoint of the year and we are in our peak occupancy periods in the hotel. Our hotel and restaurants are buzzing with business.

Speaking of buzzing, at the end of March and beginning of April our beehives are replenished and we extract the last season's honey. The bees play a huge part in our philosophy as well as our story. The bees provide honey for several products at the hotel such as our in-house granola and Honey Wheat Ale beer brewed in collaboration with local Chicagoland brewery, Brickstone Brewery.

Our bees are Italian Honeybees from a blueberry farm in Michigan. We have been keeping bees on our roof nearly nine years and we were well ahead of the trend. We did this as a way to set ourselves apart but now it's in solidarity with the health of our planet as well as our community. The act of keeping bees has been an age-old tradition, but only now does the importance of bee keeping get the spotlight it deserves, as bees are an integral part of our environment.

We utilize the honey in many ways. We demonstrate whole honey breaks in which we display an actual hive with bees to show how the honey is acquired. We also develop an entire honey-themed food menu which is a huge hotel favorite because it provides customers with information along with fantastic food. Items include fruit skewers with rooftop honey drizzle, rooftop honey granola-chobani greek yogurt parfaits, and house-made pickles with rooftop honey-beer mustard. One menu item that is popular at meetings hosted at the hotel is our Honey Break option. It features rooftop honey lemonade, mini honey crème brulée, rosemary-honey shortbread cookies, honey roasted nuts, honey brined fried chicken sliders, and sweet and spicy slaw.

Consumers in today's world are more informed than ever about the origins of their food and the restaurant scene is better than ever for it. I've recognized that the bar has risen so we strive to provide customers with different experiences. When they go to a restaurant, they expect it to be a "farm-to-table" concept and we as chefs should know where our food comes from. As the executive chef at the Marriott Mag Mile, a large city-center hotel, I have the incredible opportunity to educate and evoke emotion while providing food to create a memory that lasts longer than the meal.

The commitment to partner and buy local and grow our own food creates better experiences in the dining world as well as the fast-casual concepts that are popping up in hotels. By replicating the nature and standards of private restaurants and implementing these practices into my operation, it raises the bar and attracts customers.

As for partnerships, we partner with over a dozen Midwest farms, a winery, a brewery and a coffee roaster to meet these growing expectations. In addition to partnering with Brickstone Brewery in Bourbonnais, Illinois our partnerships include Bridgeport Coffee in Chicago to create a unique Harvest blend exclusively featured in the hotel's Harvest restaurant and Filbert's Soda Company, also in Chicago, crafts a Harvest Cherry Cola for the hotel that utilizes Michigan cherries at the peak of flavor. Wild Blossom Winery and Meadery in Chicago assists us with the beehives, winemaking and beverage customizing.

Heritage Prairie Farm in Elburn Illinois, an organic farm, designates over an acre of land to the hotel. Great American Cheese Collection provides the hotel unique cheeses from small family owned creameries a part of the collection that typically aren't seen anywhere but the hotel. Gotham Greens, located in Chicago and is one of the largest urban rooftop greenhouse in the county provides the hotel delicious lettuce during colder months. Might Vine Tomato in Rochelle, Illinois is one of the largest greenhouses in the country that provides the hotel with amazing tomatoes throughout the cold season.

Outside the state, we partner with Compart Family Farm in Nicollet, Minnesota for duroc heritage pork. The pigs are naturally more marbled with fat, providing the hotel with a more flavorful pork product. Ferndale Turkey located in Cannon Falls, Minnesota provides humanely raised turkeys that the hotel uses to make house roasted turkey for deli and any whole turkey carvings. Hillside Orchards in Berrien Springs, Michigan was established in the mid-1800's and provides the hotel a variety of fruits including apples, peaches, nectarines, blueberries and cherries. River Valley Mushrooms located in Burlington, Wisconsin and owned by a father-son duo is exclusive partner for mushrooms.

Along with these locally grown and hotel-grown products to ensure fresh ingredients, I also incorporate the use of bold and global flavors to enhance hotel offerings. Our travelers are now more knowledgeable than ever and expect to have menu options that are not only representative of the community they are in, but that are also unique offerings. The typical traveler is also now more food-focused than ever so by offering bold and unique flavors, we keep them interested. Creating whimsical memories and positive emotion from a menu option is how we aim to keep guests eating at the hotel.

When guests can eat a salad, or have an herb-infused cocktail using fresh ingredients from our rooftop garden it is a selling point. Not all restaurants have the capacity to have such offerings and with me having access to year-round growing capabilities, a rooftop garden and a beehive provides not only my kitchen, but the hotel's bar unique and fresh ingredients that set us apart.

I enjoy having an opportunity to set our entire food and beverage operation apart with simple and fresh ingredients grown on premise and believe it's not only what we should be doing, but it will be the expectation in the future. Hopefully by that time it will be the standard and we will be able to say we have been doing it for nearly nine years. Cheers to the future.

Chicago Downtown Marriott Magnificent Mile Executive Chef Frank Sanchez, formerly the hotel’s executive sous chef, oversees all culinary operations at the hotel and its F&B outlets, including management of the hotel’s rooftop garden and beehives. Chef Sanchez operates a year-round, on-site experience in fresh and nutritional options from scratch. Chef Sanchez and his team begin the seedling process indoors to grow product, reduce the hotel’s carbon footprint and create an interesting narrative for the hotel and restaurants. Chef Sanchez executes the garden aesthetics, the rooftop garden can be seen from 36 of the hotel’s 46 floors and from the fitness center. Mr. Sanchez can be contacted at 312-836-0100 or frank.sanchez@marriott.com Please visit http://www.marriott.com for more information. Extended Bio...

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