Hotel F&B Magazine
All Back Issues » July/August 2010

Wall To Table
Artistic and edible herb walls produce fresh, local flavor at Sheraton Waikiki.
By Julie Tereshchuk

Sheraton Waikiki herb walls
Featuring a farm-to-table buffet concept, Sheraton Waikiki’s Kai Market restaurant uses fresh food from local farmers—and its own walls—to provide guests with authentic Hawaiian flavors and ingredients.
Sheraton Waikiki herb walls
With live herbs within reach, cooks
can easily add fresh ingredients to
guests’ made-to-order omelets. “It creates memories and reasons for guests to return,” says Executive
Chef Darren Demaya.

Part artwork, part sustainable produce source, three living herb walls at the Sheraton Waikiki are part of an ongoing commitment to unique green initiatives. The eight-by-four-foot walls were the brainchild of Manager Roseann Grippo as she was searching for artwork during the property’s $200 million renovation. Today, fragrant, flourishing walls grace the hotel’s 450-seat Kai Market restaurant, reinforcing the outlet’s fresh, organic, and local message.

One wall stands by the entrance, while the other two flank the buffet and omelet station. This proximity enables optimal freshness. “Our cooks ask if guests would like fresh herbs in their omelets,” says Executive Chef Darren Demaya. “We simply pick them and add them straight in. It creates memories and reasons for guests to return.”

Besides embellishing omelets, a dozen varieties of herbs from the living walls add flavor to menu items including Kahuki Shrimp Scampi, Thai-style long rice noodles, steamed whole onaga (long-tail red snapper) with Chinese parsley, and lemongrass-roasted whole chicken. “We use [the herbs] in much of our cooking, especially in our lamb chops,” says Demaya. “We marinate them with fresh rosemary and thyme to give the lamb the fresh herb flavor.”

Perhaps just as important as the culinary benefit are the dialogue and excitement the herb walls create. “Our guests ask us for tips for their own gardens,” says Chaunce Lovett, Kai Market’s general manager. “A lot of people ask if they’re edible or if they can take pictures.”

Grippo’s out-of-the-box, edible artwork is fairly simple to implement. Installation of the walls took three days and was timed for the opening of Kai Market last summer. Grippo partnered with locals Greg and Terri Lee of Honolulu-based 1st Look Exteriors. An irrigation system installed by the hotel’s engineering department provides constant watering. “It’s a simple running hose,” says Grippo, who is also area director of F&B for Kyo-ya Hotels & Resorts in Hawaii. The herbs are planted sideways, grow in a moist sponge bed, and are switched out quarterly. The Lees’ team handles ongoing maintenance, although the hotel’s engineering department could take it on if trained, Grippo says. “But it’s cost-effective for me to use the expert.”

The initial cost compared favorably to Grippo’s $20,000 artwork budget. Now she saves on traditional maintenance and procurement costs. “It’s less than I’d spend on buying herbs. And I don’t [need to] have flowers in the restaurant— the walls are stunning. They create an experience for guests who can smell them from the front door and the patio.”

Adjustments to the project, when needed, have been easily implemented. Lovett says lighting had to be changed, for example. “Herbs need as much light as possible,” he says. “We simply tweaked the lighting system, adding stronger bulbs.”

By trial and error, the team has found that rosemary, sage, and lavender grow well, needing less care than basil (the most requested herb), thyme, and cilantro. “Cilantro needs constant care,” Lovett notes.

For other properties considering their own herb walls, Grippo says the addition would require less work than that provided by a single dedicated staff member. At the Sheraton Waikiki, the chefs take a keen interest, regularly checking lighting and watering. Grippo adds that it is important to agree on a planting schedule. “Quarterly, we designate a chef to own the wall,” she says. “It gives them another opportunity to be creative with our herbs.”

Julie Tereshchuk is a freelance writer based in Austin, Texas.

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