A server in a smart uniform offered me a little glass of orange liquid with a slender green sprig in the middle at the Fairmont Hotel San Francisco's resplendent penthouse the other night. I took one. It was delicious - fresh, flavorful, with just the right amount of zing. The drink, it turns out, was a chilled Thai carrot and ginger shooter, and it is on the menu at Fairmont Hotels and Resorts' upgraded Lifestyle Cuisine Plus menus.
Fairmont San Francisco General Manager Thomas Klein says that Toronto-based Fairmont surveyed its premier-class customers - called President's Club - and found that what a sizeable number most wanted was more-healthful food while on the road. This was particularly true, Klein said, of vegans, diabetics, people with gluten intolerance and other allergies.
"We are catering to our guests, and what their needs are,'' Klein says. "When we surveyed our customers they said what they really wanted was food that is fresh, light and tastes good.''
Hence, this upgraded version of a more modest menu of healthful offerings, called Lifestyle Cuisine, that the Fairmont chain started in 2005. The new version is greatly expanded and available at all 64 of of Fairmont's hotels and resorts around the world, as of last month.
Sad to say, I wasn't able to stay for the sit-down dinner and kitchen demonstration put on for invited food, nutrition and travel writers by Fairmont San Francisco's executive chef, J.W. Foster, and the Sonoma Mission Inn's executive chef, Bruno Tison. But the earlier samples I had tasted good; they were zesty and often accented with Asian flavors and and spices. The macrobiotic-friendly ahi tuna with myoga, ginger salad and crispy wonton is one example. The diabetic-friendly Agricola Farms grass-fed beef slider, rosemary potato roll and tear-drop tomato salad is another. The rosemary and a number of other herbs come from the San Francisco hotel's rooftop garden. The multiple menu items - not just a take-it-or-leave-it vegetarian plate du jour - come from recipes created at Fairmont properties around the world, accounting for their diversity.
Will the new cuisine be outrageously expensive, pricier than other menu items? And can you get it from room service?
Yes, and no. Yes, you can order it from room service. No, it won't cost more, according to Mariano Stellner, Fairmont's corporate director of food and beverages for the Americas, who told MSNBC "Price will be driven by the prices of ingredients and the complexity of preparation.''
Fairmont is not the only hotel group responding to travelers' needs and desires for healthful food. As MSNBC noted:
"Westin Hotels' SuperFoods breakfast menu features dishes that are health-enhancing and rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients. Sheraton Hotels' healthy dining options were created by Core Performance nutritionists. Marriott Hotels and Resorts' Fit for You dishes are specially
indicated on menus and geared for those who are carbohydrate, cholesterol and fat-conscious. Hyatt Hotels offers StayFit Cuisine, healthy dishes that the company does not identify on menus, though this is slated to change shortly. And Peninsula Hotels' Naturally Peninsula dishes are nutritionally balanced options that are highlighted on menus.''
Cost, complexity and the need for staff retraining are among the drawbacks of doing special diet menus for hotels. But the trend toward more nutritious fare is clear. Some hotels, like some free-standing restaurants, serve up trendy items that are too precious for words. But hospitality- industry guru Bjorn Hanson, of New York University, says that Fairmont "seems to be more serious and dedicated in its efforts than anyone else at the national level.''
There's a long way to go get widely available healthful food on the road, but this seems like a good step in the right direction.