Califonia Bountiful

It's a bountiful life: Farming in-house

July/August 2021 California Bountiful magazine

Chef takes advantage of hotel garden to create dishes and drinks

Chef Amol Agarwal focuses on using fresh ingredients from the hotel garden in signature dishes and cocktails. Photo courtesy of Visit Anaheim

When hotel chef Amol Agarwal needs more lemons or lavender, he doesn't need to go to the store—he just needs to go to the second floor. Agarwal, executive chef at the recently opened JW Marriott, Anaheim Resort, has at his disposal a garden loaded with herbs, peppers, leafy greens and even citrus and olive trees. Agarwal, a chef for 25 years, has turned these fruits and vegetables into everything from marmalade to pesto to juice for cocktails.

How did the garden project start? The property sits on land which used to be strawberry fields. We thought that would be a great idea to incorporate those elements, the local elements, into the hotel. That's what brought the whole idea of having a garden. It's situated on the second floor. We have a combination of trees, small plants, and then a little area where we grow all the kitchen garden items.

How many different things are you growing? We have citrus trees. Those are actually blood orange and lemon. We have some olive trees; (they) look like they should start to fruit, probably next year. Those are seasonal. For a year-round scale, we grow rosemary, lavender, we have basil … some romaine, cilantro and a couple of different kinds of chili peppers. And there is an area where we still are growing some strawberries.

What do you like most about having this resource available? One is obviously being close to the nature and being able to incorporate those ingredients in our day-to-day use. We are a big hotel; there's absolutely no way we can grow enough to supply (the whole facility). However, with rosemary, basil, cilantro, chilis—we are able to use them throughout our operation in the kitchen as well as in the bar. One of the things that I like is, it obviously gives a little bit to our educational aspect—to our youngest (visitors) who come to see Disneyland, they also get to see how their food is grown. It's not just Aisle 57 or Aisle 78—it really comes out of the dirt, and they're able to see and learn.

What are some of your favorite ingredients from the garden? I am very focused on using fresh herbs, and the chilis and flowers. We grow lavender flower, and we use those flowers in our signature cocktails. The variety of strawberry that we have is a little smaller in size, and they are very sweet. (With) the basil that I'm growing, we make our own pesto. ... All the other herbs, we use to flavor our sauces, like the tomato sauce that we make, being an Italian restaurant. We use lemons for the lemon zest to marinate our seafood, and of course for the juice purpose as well.

The hotel garden was designed with year-round use in mind. Photo courtesy of JW Marriott, Anaheim Resort

What are some of the most popular drinks made using ingredients grown on the premises? One is called Prosperity. It's a tequila-based cocktail. We extract juice out of basil and the Anaheim peppers, and just a hint of jalapeños there as well. We add cucumber and celery to make the juice as the base for that cocktail. Our second cocktail, which is called a Sweet Williams, is a bourbon-based cocktail that uses strawberries from our garden. We extract some strawberry juice.

How much does the garden change, or will it change, from year to year? We will do two sets of things. One is for summer plants, and one is for winter plants. Rosemary can grow 12 months around. So does lavender. The smaller (plots) we have seeded with cilantro and a couple of Anaheim peppers and jalapeño peppers. Those we will change every year or every six months. They don't survive the winter. We will bring in different plants at that time; we have not yet finalized exactly which plants we will bring in. We still have to experiment and learn. For summer, we have some romaine and a couple of other different kinds of greens that are growing. For wintertime, we had some kale, which did very well, so we might look at putting some kale back.

Kevin Hecteman

Follow us on: Facebook Twitter YouTube Pinterest Pinterest