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Letter From the Editor Vol.16

The Hotel Chef Issue

May 2007

Remember hotel dining? It started with a classic cocktail at the bar. Then you were brought to a table crowded with crystal glasses, antique plates, too-tall candles, and hovering waiters in three piece suits. There were silver trolleys wheeling about without a hint of irony. Most likely it was a long, classic French fine dining affair followed by a very large bill. But hotel food has changed. So much so that staying in hotels across the country this year inspired us to start our new Rising Star Hotel Chef award. In this issue StarChefs celebrates the hotel chefs across the country reshaping our idea of hotel dining – from Dallas to Miami.

Comfort:
For travelers who spend lots of time away from home and don’t necessarily crave the fine dining experience, new hotel food feels custom-made. At the other extreme of classic hotel fine dining, these casual places serve hearty food that’s comforting but still refined and well-executed. At Lobby at 12 in Atlanta, Nick Oltarsh composes simple plates like a braised, pulled lamb with crème fraiche and toast points ideal for sharing over a drink or making into a sandwich. Towering Cuban sandwiches and fresh fruit smoothies make guests at Restaurant 8 ½ in Miami feel like they’re getting a taste of local food culture without leaving their comfort zone. The trend towards casual-chic extends to Central 214 in Dallas, where wood-fired meats and rotisserie keep guests happy, as well as Wave’s series of internationally inspired small plates in the W Hotel in Chicago. Read our New Hotel Cuisine Feature to learn more about the trend and see some new hotel chef recipes.

Concept:
The booming trend of concept restaurants like Craft, at the W Hotel in Dallas, is thriving because it attracts both hotel guests and non hotel guests with accessible food in a hip, but relaxed environment. Concept restaurants are sometimes critiqued in the industry for being substitutes for the original chef’s flagship but our experiences at Craft Dallas is the model exception of this theory. Craft carries the brand of Tom Colicchio’s empire but escapes being impersonal because its chefs apply their personal vision while committing to the concept. Similarly at Guy Savoy in Caesar’s Palace and L’Atelier in The Four Seasons NY, chefs carry out their flagship’s philosophy.

Global:
The global restaurant delivers the culinary equivalent of Disneyland: travel the world without leaving the room. Ordering at a global restaurant is not unlike a glamorous food court: Pad Thai, a Moroccan Tagine, Authentic Sushi, or Lamb Curry. James Wierzelewski cooked in Malaysia, Micronesia, Thailand, France and Belgium before developing his concept of global dining. He first developed the concept at Aria in Chicago’s Fairmont Hotel, but more recently Wierzelewski has created another global restaurant: Vix in The Hotel Victor in Miami. Sensi at The Belaggio is another global restaurant, with four stunning kitchens in the front and center of the dining room – the result of the American diner’s increasing obsession with dinner entertainment and exoticism. Check out our Global Hotel Dining Trends feature to learn more about Wierzelewski’s concept.

Classic:
Of course we still appreciate those chefs making their imprint on the classic fine dining experience. The French Room at The Adolphus in Dallas has the cherub-festooned ceiling and gilded gold walls of a French palace. Its silverware rests not directly on the white linen tablecloth, but on crystal contraptions built to hold the cutlery. But even somewhere like this fine dining doesn’t have to be pretentious: Jason Weaver keeps things real with tiny revolts against the French rule: Asian ingredients in a Classic French context. At the luxurious Mansion on Turtle Creek John Tesar has revamped the menu since Dean Fearing’s departure. Tesar has built a classic French menu with a focus on seafood using subtle twists. See our Classic Hotel Food feature for a look into Tesar’s dishes.

These trends are being driven by many things. While some restaurants sign licensing deals and maintain a separate identity (and budget) from the hotel, other restaurants are hotel-run which often means less creative freedom and more financial responsibility. What distinguishes these hotel chefs is that they face different imperatives from restaurant chefs. Whether they’re running small fine dining places under the umbrella of a hotel or managing high-volume casual places, hotel chefs face the ongoing challenge of meeting the demands of multi-unit operations, the hotel management, and the hotel guest. Change in all directions is a good thing.

Cheers!
Antoinette Bruno
Editor-in-Chief

 

 


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