Just about every top chef proclaims a passion for sustainability and farm-to-table cuisine. While their motivations are laudable, few walk the walk like Matt Del Regno, executive chef and general manager of the Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland and the Global Center for Health Innovation.
Besides managing the hectic day-to-day operations of your typical convention center, 20-year Levy Restaurants veteran Del Regno spreads the sustainable cuisine gospel at a variety of local institutions. Examples include partnering with sustainable food producers and regular appearances at The Chefs Garden, West Side Market and other local farms.
But it’s the Huntington Convention Center’s urban farm that turns the most heads. The quarter-acre showpiece supplies a healthy portion of the center’s F&B offering.
“When you look out the windows and see the animals and vegetables it sparks their interest and they ask questions, and that lets our team tell them what we do with the farm,” Del Regno said of the interest the farm generates on meeting planner site visits.
Following are key details of the Huntington Convention Center's urban farm:
- 30 chickens that lay around two dozen eggs per day and produce 25 percent of the center’s shelled egg usage.
- 16 bee hives with around 100,000 bees that produce around 2,000 gallons of honey each year.
- Herbs and spices grown outdoors.
- 3 Mangalitsa pigs named Eddy, Honey and Sage. These glorified pets are not used for food but consume unused food and scraps.
- A new hydroponic growing system inside the kitchen produces tomatoes and salad greens.
- Goats are used to trim grass during the warmer months.
Honey bees and the critical role pollinators play in the food cycle were what brought Del Regno into the sustainability fold.
“When we opened five years ago I was at a conference and listened to a speaker talk about the struggle of pollinators, so I thought it could be a great idea to get our own hives,” he said. “We had never kept bees.
"Nobody on our staff knew anything about it," he continued. "So the first time I stood next to a beehive was when I was dumping bees into my own. We started with two and then had six.
"They all wintered over, and at the end of the second of year we had 12. We now have 16 downtown and up to 12 spread out in other areas, including my house, my mother’s house and a general store.”
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Group Offerings at the Huntington Convention Center
The convention center’s cuisine style is as purposed as its production, relying on simplicity and letting the goodness of the food shine through.
“Our style overall is very clean and straightforward New American cuisine,” Del Regno said. “We don’t lean toward any one food style. Overall, when you’re feeding thousands of people at a time, first and foremost you start with a good product and let the food take us from there.”
For Del Regno, the proof is in the pudding, as the saying goes.
“We just had an event that was dead set on certain things—what we were doing was actually an upgrade,” he said. “We asked them to have one station of what we do and then the rest was theirs.
"At the end of it we stood with the planner and they said, ‘I don’t know why I didn’t do this for the entire event.' I said, ‘We can do it next time. Let’s start talking about next year’s event.’”