Holiday In: This New Year’s spread at the Waldorf Astoria might be the most high-falutin’ locavore meal yet.
On our recent radio debut we lamented the outsourcing of homemade holiday meals. But we’re intrigued by the New Year’s Day brunch that the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on 50th and Park prepares every year for upwards of 500 guests, staff, friends, family and curious walk-ins. Especially considering that executive banquet chef Peter Betz recently told us that the eponymous salad is now made with Red Jacket Orchard apples. (It’s not clear where the fruit for the first Waldorf, created in 1896 by dining room manager Oscar Tschirky, came from, but we’re looking into it, just like we did for the Depression-era lingo of soda jerkers.) In fact, the restaurant–which has the biggest kitchen in the city; occupies an entire city block; employs 150 staff; and serves the hotel’s multiple restaurants, bars, lounges, 4 ballrooms, 40 meeting rooms, and room service for 1,500 guests–has upped its orders from regional farms fourfold in the last year. (That’s a really big deal for local producers, when you think about the quantity they buy.) And they’ve got plans for further growth, according to chef Betz, buoyed by the fact that the matriarchs who plan such happenings as the recent Debutante’s Ball or the upcoming Venetian Ball, have started requesting local greens from Satur Farm and Long Island duck.
“There’s absolutely no pushback” from customers, Betz added. “We’re growing as fast as our suppliers can keep up with us.” And that’s part of the reason the Waldorf is among the largest clients of Long Island based produce distributor, J. King, which has developed an impressive roster of farmers it buys from, and an even more impressive system for getting produce from the farm to the kitchen. (Edible East End, the Edible Manhattan sister pub I edit, featured a similar system used by another company on Long Island.)
Propped up by greenhouse production on the Island, as well as more farmers who trust they will have a ready market for late-season cauliflower and rutabaga in November and even December. Which means the debs and their beaus should look forward to New York spuds and Brussels sprouts to go with their grassfed Pennsylvania meat, and the ever-refreshing chopped apple salad. And they can wash it down with Sparkling Pointe bubbly and Brooklyn Brewery’s limited edition champagne bottled series.
These galas are actually the ideal setting for slipping local fare into the consciousness, said Berg, since the fall growing season overlaps with the fall gala season, and since the gala’s made-to-order menu can be tailored to what’s in season on that exact day. It helps that the Waldorf has its own fullservice butcher, massive soup and stock stations, and myriad other ways to use whole animals and unusual lots of produce. We look forward to exploring the Waldorf food culture–past and present–more in the New Year.