Culinary innovation is no longer reserved for Paris, New York and Tokyo alone—it’s happening all over the world, and hotel restaurants can play a big part if they play their cards right.
Before the explosion of visual media and social sharing, it was always believed that the next big things in food service would emanate from the haute cuisine capitals of the world like London, Paris, New York or Tokyo.
While it’s still nice to check in on what select restaurants in locales like these do to justify a $300-per-plate meal, the world has transitioned toward a more grassroots approach to new food trends, with the tireless efforts of the ‘little guys’ like food truck owners and suburban or rural startups finally receiving the praise they deserve.
While discussing the modern food revolution in such broad strokes shouldn’t be news to anyone in the hotel industry, it nonetheless should serve as a powerful reminder of two important mental shifts. First, never let your location hold you back from being as inventive as you yearn to be—there are no longer any geographic stigmas for where a restaurant is situated. Second, with the democratic nature of social media, everyone is constantly learning about the many exciting things coming from chefs across the globe, and customers now expect just that every time they dine out.
It’s this second point that should remind you of the pressing need for continuous innovation in the kitchen. If you aren’t offering restaurant patrons something new, they’ll go somewhere else. Between Google and Yelp, they’ll be able to find a fun place to eat that’s nearby within seconds. Presentation matters, as do contemporary trends like locally sourced ingredients and meeting dietary restrictions.
With food and beverage now becoming an increasingly critical factor in the hotel purchasing decision, you cannot let it count against you. But there’s a subtle balance act at work here in terms of weighing the audaciously original with the familiar and the comfortable.
A Canadian example
To showcase one such success story to give you some inspiration, I approached Chef Ronny Belkin, whom I knew back when he was the executive chef at St. Eugene Golf Resort & Casino, an independent hotel in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Now he is the head chef at Soulfood, a seasonal, organic and farm-to-table restaurant in Cranbrook, British Columbia, that is soon expanding to a 100-seat location with a heavy focus on frozen ‘grab and go’ meals.
For reference, Cranbrook is a town of about 20,000 people and well more than four hours’ drive from the nearest major city. It’s hardly the place where one would traditionally think of the food revolution taking hold, and yet Soulfood represents but one of an innumerous coterie of new restaurants that are constantly challenging the idea of where the best cuisine should be found.
At first glance, the menu at this semi-rural establishment may not seem at all outrageous or particularly offbeat, but that’s because the focus is on meals that are “the same but different.” The menu is totally recognizable, except that everything is made in-house and from scratch, from the sauces to the baked goods—where there is a particular focus on vegan and gluten-free options—and everything in between.
Other ideas on how to improve
Soulfood has built its menu around the idea of complete meals. They try to ensure that every meal is nutrient-packed through small additions to the plate so that, even though you may not plow through a 12-oz. ribeye, you are still leaving fully fueled for the day. With subtle contributors like sprouts, microgreens, chopped nuts or seeds, you can help to put eaters just over the satiety edge so they aren’t craving junk food within two hours.
While a menu in the Rockies that’s locally authentic might include such local ingredients like bison or huckleberries, these are often hard to source year-round. While Chef Belkin does source ingredients like those, he also brings in wild-foraged local mushrooms, and honeyberries and wild nettle from Soulfood’s own gardens.
Above all, the restaurant has partnered with several local farmers who are strongly focused on biodiversity and what grows best in the area. This farm-to-table supply chain is emphasized on the website and on the menu to further reinforce the restaurant’s core values for customers.
Chef Belkin also is incorporating a taste of the somewhat unknown in his efforts to help introduce Levantine cuisine to Cranbrook. Stemming from his own Israeli background and experiences growing up in Toronto where Middle Eastern food is abundant, he started experimenting with these tastes for seasonal menus, where they were greatly appreciated.
In addition to trying new things, Chef Belkin keeps his menus seasonal and changing.
Part of running a successful kitchen is giving your chefs the freedom to explore their roots, their passions or letting them try new menu items for no other reason than that they want to try a few new things. While they may not hit a home run every time, continuous innovation will ensure that you are constantly giving your guests something new, and occasionally you will stumble upon a particular dish that is especially popular.
One of the world’s most published writers in hospitality, Larry Mogelonsky is the principal of Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited, a Toronto-based consulting practice. His experience encompasses hotel properties around the world, both branded and independent, and ranging from luxury and boutique to select-service. Larry is also on several boards for companies focused on hotel technology. His work includes four books “Are You an Ostrich or a Llama?” (2012), “Llamas Rule” (2013), “Hotel Llama” (2015), and “The Llama is Inn” (2017). You can reach Larry at email@example.com to discuss hotel business challenges or to book speaking engagements.
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