Toronto-based Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, the luxury hotel chain with 51 hotels in 12 countries, extended its award-winning “Green Partnership” environmental program this summer with the announcement that it would begin a brand-wide commitment to trying wherever possible to offer menus using sustainable, locally sourced, organic products as part of everyday foodservice operations. Here, Fairmont vice president of food and beverage Serge Simard shares his recipe for creating “green” menus.
SPECIAL EVENTS MAGAZINE: Fairmont Hotels & Resorts announced this summer that its “sustainable” focus will be reflected on Fairmont's menus by fall. How is the work progressing?
SERGE SIMARD: At Fairmont, we've been “green” for almost 20 years. It's part of our DNA. We do this religiously.
SPECIAL EVENTS: So you aren't getting on the environmental bandwagon since [former U.S. vice president] Al Gore came out with his anti-global warming film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” last year?
SIMARD: Not at all — Al Gore is following us! We started this long ago. Remember, [environmental organization] Greenpeace started in Canada. So this is nothing new for us.
But what we have been saying all along, our approach is not cookie-cutter. We really cater to our clientele. When traveling to one of our hotels, our customers expect some local flavor — local ingredients, local cuisines. That is not new. But we are now saying to our hotels, to restaurant menus and to catering, when you can provide an organic choice or product, please do so. Make the effort.
How can they do this? They partner with local farmers, and it is going very well. Everyone is very excited. So many products are out there, and they really want to work with us. For us, it is just a bit more work.
SPECIAL EVENTS: Are product sourcing and purchasing subject to review by corporate staff, or is it the responsibility of individual property?
SIMARD: They write their own menus based on what is available in the local area. The hotel decides to what extent they will go. One property offers a beautiful lunch buffet — the 100 Miles Buffet — because everything on that table came from within 100 miles of that hotel! This is the type of stuff that our hotels can do.
Why are we so good at this? We have many hotels in national parks. We are well aware of the restrictions, the rules to be environmentally friendly. We are good to nature. Our “eco-meet” program [which includes waste recycling, water and energy conversation, and measures to protect air quality] is about 15 years old. When meeting planners book in our hotels, ask about our program. Whenever we are practicing any kind of environmental program, it is really helpful for us.
SPECIAL EVENTS: Do you need to implement training for culinary staff to buy and cook with sustainable products?
SIMARD: There is no special training needed — it's just more work for our people to search for ingredients. The corporate environmental director came and said, “This is how you do it, how you're supposed to think about it, but it's up to you to find the farmer, the producer, the supplier, to help you out.”
And actually, the recipe really doesn't change. If anything, it's even more flavorful. There is nothing like a great tomato in August, which is local and all that. You don't have to do too much to it.
SPECIAL EVENTS: I imagine that sourcing sustainable product is going to be more expensive — do you think that will be true?
SIMARD: The cost — the cost is more! Our guests who want an organic menu, they know it will cost more, and they will pay more. We're not saying that the whole menu is organic — that is impossible. We are not there yet! But when it is available and we can make the effort, we are willing to do this.
SPECIAL EVENTS: Social events are so often life's milestones — a wedding, for example. Do you foresee that social clients may be less concerned about sustainable menus than business clients are?
SIMARD: Why not? It's there, it's everywhere — the green, organic push. It's not a fad; it's there to stay. Every month we will have more and more requests for it.
Maybe we're a bit ahead of our time, but this will be the new trend for a long, long time. We're the first hotel to do to this, and we are very, very proud of it.
For more information on Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, visit the company's Web site at www.fairmont.com.