In just a few short years, “sustainability” has gone from the mantra of eco-warriors to a high-end trend, with the hottest names in hospitality seeking out ways to show increasingly concerned consumers that their dining offerings are considered and kind to the planet. Whether it’s farm-to-table dining, responsible sourcing, reducing food miles or a nose-to-tail approach to using produce, it’s all about ethical eating.
As awareness grows about the cruelty involved in industrial farming, as well as its impact on the environment, restaurants and resorts are adapting to the changing desires of consumers. Couple this with the financial and ecological costs of importing ingredients that have racked up thousands of air miles and it simply makes sense for the F&B industry to find a better way.
Photo credit: Aman Resorts
But more than this, sustainability, while still a crucial concept in environmental terms, has also become an important part of the luxury dining and travel lexicon.
Guy Heywood, COO of Two Roads Hospitality, Asia, which includes Alila Hotels, explains, “The interpretation and meaning of luxury have changed significantly in today’s world. Luxury is no longer about marble and gold and chandeliers but is about life-enriching experiences. We focus on giving our guests an in-depth immersion to the destination, the culture and the local habits (including food) that the destination specialises in and is all about.”
Diners want to know more about what’s on their plate and where it has originated, so it is now necessary for any five-star eatery to have locally and ethically sourced options, insists Enzo Cassini, Food & Beverage Director of Aman Resorts.
Cassini adds, “There is a huge increase and demand from the well-travelled guests who want to be better informed about what they are eating and where the ingredients of their dishes are produced and sourced. At Aman, as much as possible, we use organic produce from local suppliers – sustaining local communities, also preventing the usage of plastic – that is harvested in traditional and eco-friendly methods.”
Photo credit: Alila Hotels
In fact, most of the elite hospitality groups now ensure that their properties have on-site farms and encourage guests to go “behind the scenes” of the culinary offerings.
Aman chefs often come out to discuss with diners what they are eating and how it has reached the table. Each of their properties in Indonesia has an organic garden and farm where vegetables, herbs, fruits and poultry are produced and raised, while Amanyangyun in Shanghai has a section of land set aside to work with local farmers to help to cultivate and supply organic vegetables to the hotel. This helps to create jobs for the local community and also aids with quality control.
Heywood adds that, at Alila, where all the properties are EarthCheck certified and there is a company-wide no-plastic policy, many resorts have organic gardens that not only produce food for the kitchen but also provide options for guest experiences such as cooking classes.
Photo credit: Rhoda
Savvy diners are seeking humane food experiences that promote sustainability, according to Forbes. A recent article detailed the demands of a new generation, stating, “Think pasture-fed meats, farm-raised eggs and supporting smaller producers who adhere to the ethical treatment of livestock.”
Leading restaurants in Asia such as Hong Kong’s Rhoda and Linguini Fini are leading the charge with nose-to-tail dining that ensures that every part of the animal is used, while other local establishments such as Grassroots Pantry and MANA! operate a zero-waste policy. Social enterprise Food Savior helps restaurants to make sure that they make the most of their menus by enabling them to sell any surplus dishes at a discount.
In Bangkok, the city’s first zero-waste restaurant, Bo.lan, is making waves. The chefs grow their own vegetables on site and have special systems for processing organic waste and purifying water. Even in Singapore, where space is at a premium, the ethical eating movement is taking off. Open Farm Community is a 35,000-square-foot space with herb and vegetable gardens, plus worm and ant farms, where local farmers can showcase their sustainable wares – either for customers to take home or for chefs to whip up something there and then for the eco-conscious diner.
Photo credit: Nihi Sumba
For top-end resorts and private islands, taking a sustainable approach makes ecological, economic and humanitarian sense. Having gardens and farmland attached to the properties reduces the need to ship or fly in food at great expense (and often at great waste) and provides opportunities for guests to easily explore local tastes. Working with farmers in nearby communities also provides the entire area with a financial boost.
Nihi Sumba is an idyllic wilderness retreat on the Indonesian island of Sumba that combines luxury, nature, freedom and top-quality service in an unbeatable setting.
“We try to help the Sumba communities as much as we can by sourcing our food products from local farmers,” says Chef Javier, adding, “We are trying to create a cooperative between the local farmers to enable them to sell their products to us on a regular basis and without any competition. We have our own garden where we produce some salad leaves and fruits such as avocado, papaya, pineapple, banana. We get our fish daily from our guest catches, and with our professional fishermen team, we select only the large ones and we put back the small ones to take care of the ocean.”
The resort even has its own chocolate factory, underlining the demand from consumers to become actively involved with local ingredients and styles of cooking.
Photo credit: Song Saa Private Island
Luxury Cambodian retreat Song Saa Private Island courts guests with the idea of an impossibly romantic faraway setting in the Koh Rong archipelago, but it’s also clever about offering five-star service in a way that’s mindful about its impact on the environment and local communities. The beautiful residences and restaurants are constructed with reclaimed materials, so it makes sense that the menus should also make the best of what’s on offer nearby.
Chef Sophat Hing says, ”We always try to use as many local suppliers as possible for our products, without compromising on the quality of our ingredients. We source a lot of our seafood from the local fishing village close to Song Saa, and our lettuce, fresh herbs and spices come from our own garden on the island. We use local Khmer-handcrafted plates, and we press fresh juice from locally sourced fruits, served with sustainable bamboo straws grown less than a mile away.”
He adds that today‘s travellers and diners are looking for an authentic, local, multi-sensory experience, with food and drink sourced from nearby. Increasingly, the discerning consumer values that over food that’s been flown in from thousands of miles away, at a huge cost to the environment.
Chef Hing says, “People want to see, taste and smell Cambodia when they dine with us.”
Photo credit: Laucala IslandSimilarly, Laucala Island, a picture-perfect gem nestled in the Fijian South Pacific, has organic farming areas producing herbs, fruits, vegetables and meat. Chefs even forage across the isle sourcing wild mushrooms and flowers, making the most of the indigenous plants and animals for their menus. They use hydroponics to maximise what can be grown, and the bulk of the seafood served is caught within a mile of the shore. There is an abundance of coconut trees on the island, but even this bounty is harvested and put to good use – in the kitchens, at the spa and even in the decor.
A spokesman for the luxury resort says, “The sustainable approach to resort living not only guarantees flavourful food and memorable spa treatments but also ensures that guests leave with a genuine insight into Fijian culture.”
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