Since discerning tastes can tell when food is fresh at meetings and events, serving local sources makes sense. Besides, there are plenty of other benefi ts of incorporating Michigan products into the meals that are carefully prepared in these top-notch settings.
At the Amway Grand Plaza in Grand Rapids, Josef Huber, corporate executive chef for AHC + Hospitality in Grand Rapids, says in addition to vegetables, their local items include dairy products such as ice cream and cheese along with eggs, turkey, poultry and pork.
“We have a lot of local farms and produce on the menus,” says Huber, who explains they mostly go through a supplier for traceability and accountability because food safety remains a top priority.
Although some clients, such as the Michigan Farm Bureau, insist on locally grown foods for their events, that can get tricky for a crowd of 2,000. Still, Huber says they can get great Michigan cheese, dairy, meats and produce, and they do a lot of business with FarmLink, which connects local farmers and food producers with venues like the hotel.
Others have specific requests, such as a dairy convention requesting milk from a particular farmer. “Some bring in products and showcase them at the event, which gives us a glimpse of what’s out there,” says Huber.
In the summer months when seasonal fruits and vegetables are more readily available, a lot of the produce at The Kitchen by Wolfgang Puck comes from local farmers.
Winter months can be a challenge, Huber says. “If it’s in season, locally grown tastes better, and it looks better because it doesn’t have to travel across the country to get to us. Local foods also build community and keep local farmers in business.”
Local foods drive the menu at The Kensington Hotel in Ann Arbor and its on-site restaurant rel·ish, according to Daniel Fine, managing director and Loren Halprin, executive chef. “We find the best local food and build the menu around that,” Halprin says.
Because Ann Arbor is such a coveted destination, their guests expect locally sourced foods. The hotel offers a Local Flair package with Michigan snacks, such as Better Made, and the regional fare they serve is often paired with beverages from local distilleries and vineyards.
When selling meeting and event space, the hotel does as much to support the small local coffee shop as they do to support a farmer in Grand Rapids.
In the bigger picture, it’s about leaving a smaller footprint with something that has to travel 50 to 500 miles and is fresher and better tasting, says Halprin. “We’re passionate about local food, so we use as much as we can, and it’s a big talking point that people appreciate,” adds Fine.
Up to the Challenge
At the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa in Acme, Krista Akerley, food and beverage buyer, says the chefs regularly incorporate local food and beverage items into their menus.
In the resort’s Aerie Restaurant, chef Bryan Petrick utilizes Werp Farms of Buckley weekly on many menu items. “They produce beautiful greens, root vegetables and microgreens that round out the plate,” Akerley says.
The banquet culinary team gets creative with local products for groups that request specialty menus using locally sourced items. Beverage menus also spotlight local wineries, breweries, cideries and distilleries.
Although supporting local farmers and vendors is the biggest benefit of local products, being able to educate guests about these products is another win-win, Akerley says.
While sourcing specific items can be difficult, she loves a good challenge, such as the Northern Michigan Small Farms Conference that has been held at the resort for the past five years. The 800-person conference requires certain percentages of product utilized in all banquet meal menus to be locally sourced. At least 70 percent of the food served has to come from Michigan and 40 percent from within 125 miles of Acme. Taste the Local Difference surveys the menu to make sure it falls within the certified local food standards.
This year, Akerley sourced items for three events, 88 percent from Michigan and 81 percent from within the 125-mile radius of the event. “It always feels good to be able to meet and exceed the expectations of our clients,” she says.
“We currently bring in produce from the Eastern Market, Chef’s Garden (OHIO), Artisan bread makers, local chocolates for guest amenities and Michigan-made products,” says Nassima Goumeziane, director of food and beverage for The Westin Book Cadillac Detroit. “We also offer locally made products to our guests as welcome amenities.”
These practices let the hotel showcase specialty local products and provide guests with fresh, sustainable menu items. Investing in the community and giving back by supporting small businesses is another benefit. “Sourcing from around the region gives us the guarantee of quality and freshness, and it builds a strong bond with our local vendors,” she says.
At a recent event, the hotel offered a fourcourse locally sourced menu for more than 300 attendees. Executive chef Jonathan Konicki and his team, along with the meeting planner, took several trips to Eastern Market to speak with the local vendors who came to the event and showcased their products, such as teas, honey, breads and desserts that were part of the reception before dinner. “This helped a national company contribute to the local community,” says Goumeziane.
Planners are always looking for what’s fresh and unique, so customized menus are based on seasonal availability and tweaked as needed. “The result is always a beautifully designed and crafted menu that is appealing to the senses, great tasting and regionally inspired,” she says.
Starting From Scratch
The Inn at Harbor Shores in St. Joseph is happy to support the local economy. “When we source items from local farmers, we cite them on our menus, mainly on our spring/ summer menus,” says Kelsey Cheyne, director of sales and marketing. “It’s important to sustaining a community. Plus, in the long run these options are healthier, and we are providing a better product for our guests.”
They’re proud of the fact that this allows them to be a “scratch kitchen,” she adds. Still, their executive chef has to be creative in the winter months as the hotel’s menu changes seasonally. Fortunately, they have one local farmer with a greenhouse who supplies microgreens year-round, and they also try to pickle items whenever possible.
Amy Cox, senior director of sales, and David McGregor, executive chef at The Henry Ford in Dearborn, share their relationship with regional fare. “We know our customers like that quality of food,” says Cox. “Our venues are experiencing some of the highest ratings for food.”
As McGregor explains, many of their products come from big local purveyors, such as Guernsey Dairy, which is located nearby. Bread is baked locally for the building and year-round hoop houses stretch the selection of seasonal items during the winter.
“The whole basis of cooking for chefs starts with getting the best possible ingredients,” he adds. “They speak for themselves, they’re so fresh.”
Timing plays into the menu too, notes Cox. “We find out when an event will be and recommend what will taste good at that time, such as our gazpacho, which is fantastic.”
The local food movement has a domino effect too. “It’s a partnership you’re building with your community,” McGregor says. “It feels so much better to support my neighbor, and they in turn support us. It all comes full circle.”
Cox agrees: “We become family with some of these partners that do dinners with us. We have rich Michigan produce and food heritage in this state, and we have very good communication with the farms.” They’ll sit down in advance to discuss what can be planted and plan their menus around it.
Most of the locally sourced items come from within a 200-mile radius of The Henry Ford’s front gate with a few exceptions, such as dried cherries from Traverse City. The key between the chef and the sales team is knowing when something will be in season and available.
For meeting planners and those with a sales or event planning team, Cox says, “Make sure you have a plan to label and mark the food. It really helps people get in on your mission when they know that food is local.”