While everyone thinks they understand what environmentally friendly cuisine means, there are a lot of fallacies out there that could lead you astray. We asked Cabrin Kelly-Hale, director of event planning with JW Marriott Star Pass in Tucson, to debunk some of those organic catering myths.
True or False: Meeting hotels now offer more organic food.
Kelly-Hale: False. I did a great deal of research on hotel banquet menus across the country in preparing for our 2008 menus and was honestly shocked that this was not a focus. Of 60 sets of menus from large properties across the country, I was amazed that only two mentioned organic.
But we are seeing more requests for green menus — during the first three months of 2008, these requests were up at least 35 percent from the same time period in 2007. Last year, planners were interested; this year, it's affecting their site decisions.
True or False: Eco-cuisine is more expensive.
Kelly-Hale: False. Not if you manage it correctly. Organic may cost a little more, but because we cook to order, we don't overorder or overproduce. Typically, banquet menu pricing goes up 5 percent to 7 percent yearly, and we kept our 2008 menus completely in line with this standard. Also, the chef and I can customize less expensive menus that still meet all the criteria.
True or False: There's not a lot you can do with organic food at breaks.
Kelly-Hale: False. Our breaks feature a lot of products from local vendors. For example, Green Valley Ranch pecans become house-made pecan brittle with local honey. We have a made-to-order salsa break with locally grown chilies and tomatoes. Our chefs make beef, turkey, and vegetarian jerky that is all-natural and incredibly delicious. We provide signage highlighting these facts, and the food becomes a great conversation point for the attendees.
True or False: You can do a traditional buffet with organic food.
Kelly-Hale: False. Our food is never finished in the kitchen, put in a chafing dish, and left for the guests to serve themselves. Instead, we present experiential cuisine in an interactive environment. This means that we sear, sauté, assemble, carve, and create each dish to order for the guest at the time they want it. We don't use any steam tables, ever.
Cooking to order means that we never run out of food, and we never have to throw food out. We may need to do some well-thought-out bulk preparation, but never any bulk cooking. If, for example, we cut up more veggies than we need, we can make soup. But you can't recycle cooked veggies.
True or False: A meeting can be green without eco-cuisine.
Kelly-Hale: False. I don't believe that hotels can be “fashionably” committed and do a few overt things to be green — we also need to do the things that will really affect our world. When the planners we work with poll their attendees after a meeting at Starr Pass, it's at the top of the list in terms of what they care about. So I really think that eco-cuisine is the cornerstone of a green meeting.
True or False: Décor has yet to go green.
Kelly-Hale: False. Our in-house décor company, Encore Creative, has designed fabulous centerpieces that fit the ambience but don't use cut flowers, such as beaten copper cylinders with candles, mosaic lamps, and cactus arrangements that people take home and keep as houseplants. Our menus are printed on 99 percent recycled paper. We reuse our linens constantly, including handpainted, natural leather table coverings that can be quickly cleaned with an antibacterial wipe. In the lobby, we've replaced plastic cups with ones made almost entirely of corn — they break down within 45 days when composted.