Applying the farm-to-table craze is more than just lip service for Todd Kelly, who manages the food operations at Cincinnati’s AAA Five-Diamond-rated Orchids at Palm Court as well as the culinary efforts of the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza. He literally bought a farm.
“There was a plot of land that was for development and my wife and I wanted a project to keep our young daughters busy in the summer, but also to teach them where food came from,” he explained. “They knew that the cows went ‘moo’ and pigs went ‘oink,’ but we didn’t want them to think all their food came from Kroger.”
This passion for sourcing set Kelly on a mission to ensure that Orchids’ reputation for high-quality cuisine, along with a large amount of locally grown meat and produce, was maintained, and also extended to the hotel’s other F&B offerings.
Of course, quality costs money, but to Kelly the result is well worth the expense, and it actually may end up creating savings in the end. One example is the property’s in-house butcher shop, which employs three full-time butchers who cut all of its steaks and pork—including cutting its own bacon and making prosciutto-style ham that takes two years to cure—and prepare all of its fish.
“My goal is to make this food the way it was in the 1930s when the hotel opened,” he said. “There was a full butcher shop where they cured their own meet, made their own cheeses. We know where these hogs are coming from, what they’re being fed all their lives, so we really know the quality. Some of these projects are expensive, but in the long run they save us a lot of money.”
Kelly has earned a number of accolades, including the American Culinary Federation USA Chef of the Year, and is one of only six Hilton Signature Chefs in the U.S.
Kelly’s attention to quality and detail extends to the hotel’s group F&B offerings.
If you’re ordering a dinner for 1,000 or 100 it’s all the same with the products we’re using,” Kelly said, “it’s just on a larger scale.
“Menus are conversation starters. It’s all custom; we work with the meeting planner to really try to get to the point of the message they’re trying to deliver to their customers or clients,” he continued. “We have the capability of doing high-end stuff, but we do a wide range of everything. We’re really good at utilizing alternative cuts of meat, and one of the things we really concentrate on is vegetable-forward foods. The proteins are very expensive, so if we can make the dish a 70 percent to 80 percent vegetable-forward dish, when in season it becomes a very high-quality meal.”