In her first large-scale corporate collaboration, Alice Waters has joined forces with the Hyatt Hotel chain to provide an organic children’s menu at full-service Hyatt's in the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean. At a press conference Tuesday at the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley Waters, surrounded by baskets of fresh bounty from the garden, and representatives from Hyatt -- including local hotel chefs -- talked up this nascent edible experiment while students prepped produce from the new menu for lunch guests.
Waters initially turned down the hotel chain. Undeterred, Hyatt food folk continued to court her and impressed the Chez Panisse founder with their commitment to offering guests quality eats. She made it clear that she wouldn't compromise on a local, organic, seasonal menu. And that's how this unlikely alliance formed. Waters sees the partnership as an opportunity to work with a big institutional setting on the tricky distribution end, including sourcing farm fresh organic food in parts of the country not blessed with California's year-round growing season. Hyatt made a generous donation to the school food reformer's Edible Schoolyard Project, said Waters, ($50,000 it turns out). In exchange, Waters agreed to lend her name, expertise, and food philosophy to the evolving edible hotel program.
Hyatt was already reworking its menus before Waters came on board. Feedback from hotel customers revealed that travelers want to maintain a healthy regimen when they're away from home, said Susan Terry, vice president of culinary operations for Hyatt Hotels and Resorts In North America. The hotel chain's kitchen staff took note. The company's culinary philosophy boils down to: Food. Thoughtfully Sourced. Carefully Served. -- promoting healthy people, a healthy planet and healthy communities. Developed in association with the Partnership for a Healthier America, Hyatt's edible offerings also feature the recently launched “For Kids By Kids” menu tasted, tested, and approved by the younger set.
Given the farm-to-table pioneer's long-term focus on feeding children well, it made sense for Waters to concentrate on elevating the kids' food first for Hyatt. Waters and her team designed the prix fixe menu, a simple, three-course dinner, consisting of a salad, chicken entree, and dessert -- made with all organic ingredients, natch.
Here's what kids holed up in Hyatt's can find on the recently rolled out summer menu courtesy of the grand dame of the delicious revolution:
Romaine Lettuce Hearts, Carrot Curls, and a Radish Rose with Lemon Vinaigrette for Dipping
“Contrary to prevailing beliefs, getting kids to eat vegetables is not difficult. We simply have to meet their most basic impulses: to eat something that is engaging and that tastes delicious,” said Waters. “The aliveness of textures and colors, makes this universally appealing to kids.” As for the names, the Berkeley restaurateur was seeking something both "poetic and fanciful."
Grilled Chicken with Pesto Sauce, Roasted Potatoes and Cherry Tomatoes
“This is a dish of simple grilled and roasted ingredients. The trick with something so straightforward is to be confident that the ingredients are the best that they can be, said Waters, what she terms "capturing the moment of ripeness."
Strawberry and Orange Slices served with a Sweet Juice in a Real Orange
“The goal here is to appeal to kids’ imagination about ‘dessert,’ without feeding them unhealthy, sugary food,” explained Waters. “A real orange cup filled with perfectly sliced ripe fruit feels special, and the juice is made with a touch of honey to sweeten it.” The lemon verbena garnish adds a whimsical, unexpected, and fragrant touch, designed to "educate the senses," another of the sustainable food icon's frequent catchphrases.
Since Waters is promising a seasonal menu, the dishes on offer will change and rotate, likely three to four times a year. "We have to dream up what we're going to do for winter," said Waters, acknowledging that sourcing organic ingredients will be more challenging in colder climates in the upcoming months.
The Grand Hyatt in San Francisco has begun serving the summer menu. Initially, said executive chef Ian Libberton, there was some resistance among young ones when they couldn't find chicken nuggets on the menu. Libberton understood, since his own son is a chicken fingers fiend. But he is looking at the long haul both personally and professionally and knows that switching to serving unbreaded, organic chicken is a sound move. "My kid is already a convert and our youngest guests are coming on board too," he said. "We're not sacrificing flavor over health, so it's a win-win." Terry added: "It's not kid food, it's adult food appropriately portioned, well seasoned, and fresh."
Of course, it remains to be seen whether the littlest guests stage a delicious revolution of their own: Demanding the return of the chicken nugget or skipping salad and forgoing fruit in favor of a more indulgent dessert, say, hot chocolate fudge sundaes.
Whether or not the hotel culinary program is a success, one thing is certain: Waters shows no sign of slowing down on her crusade to feed all America's children wholesome meals.
What's next: Will Waters sponsor organic salad bars in Walmart stores around the country? She hasn't been asked, Waters told Bay Area Bites. But, corporate honchos take note, she's open to collaborating with other institutions committed to sourcing organic, seasonal food and paying farmers and their workers a fair price for their products. The time is ripe, she argued, for such alliances.
Update: Speaking of fair prices: Hyatt is the focus of a global boycott by union leaders protesting the international hotel chain's wages and work conditions for housekeeping staff.