Over the last 10 years the Chicago Marriott Downtown has had a fantastic reputation for its freshly prepared food and beverages. From its homemade potato chips and French fries to its ice cream and cheese, 95 percent of the food served is created in house. Chef Myk Banas, who has been the executive chef for the past five years, is hoping to take the same mantra and transfer it over to the hotel’s beverage program. Although Banas’ team already make their own soda and have been making their own beer for the past three years, he hopes to take this one step further by growing his own hops on a 9th floor, rooftop garden.
When Banas first came to the Chicago Marriott Downtown, it already had a rooftop garden where the hotel grew a few herbs such as rosemary, chives, and lavender. Although a unique attribute to any hotel, especially one in a major metropolitan city, Banas saw an opportunity to turn this garden into a major contributor to the hotel’s food and beverage segment. He started with small ingredients and tomato plants and ended up with so much more.
“After five years we now have about 20 different herbs, two types of cucumbers, four types of lettuce, eight types of tomatoes, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, grapes, radishes, beets, turnips, as well as bell and hot peppers” Banas says. The hotel also has an exclusive acre of land at Heritage Prairie Farm in Elburn, Ill., where the Marriott is able to choose what crops are grown. Banas feels that it is important to keep everything as local as possible. “You should not have to ship an apple 400 miles, to a degree, it is about doing the right thing” he continues.
For the past three years the Chicago Marriott Downtown has been brewing its beer with Half Acre Brewery, a local Chicago brewery. Since the Marriott does not have a brewing license or the room to brew their beer on sight, partnered with Half Acre. However, the Marriott does grow aspects of the beer on its rooftop. On the rooftop there are five bee hives, with more than 200,000 bees that create about 400-500 pounds of honey each year. This honey is then used for their very popular Rooftop Honey Wheat Beer. The Marriott produces about 100 kegs of the Rooftop beer each year.
It also brews seasonal beers, such as hard apple cider, and about 12 barrels of wine each year with Wild Blossom Meadery & Winery; currently on tap they have their Downstate Maple Stout. Although there are no maple trees at the hotel, it provides the maple syrup for Wild Blossom to use in its beer. Banas takes the Marriott’s chefs down to a friend’s farm in southern Illinois where they personally tap the maple trees, bring the sap back to the Marriott, and turn it into syrup that is then used for the Downstate Maple Stout.
“We planted four types of hops and so far they are doing very well. We were told we should not expect much the first year, but all 20 plants have hops and smell like hops. We were also told they may not be viable the first year, but we are going to try to use them anyway” says Banas. The four hops they are currently growing are Cascade, Columbus, Hallertau mf, and Tettnang. In the next few weeks, Banas and his team will be harvesting the hops and hopefully they will be using their hops in their seasonal beers as well as their Rooftop Honey Wheat Beer. When it comes to brewing beer Banas says “I am an enthusiastic novice. Our goal is ultimately to create exceptional food and beverage for our guests that come and stay with us. We want to offer close to home products that use as little fossil fuel as possible to get here.”
Home grown hops is just one more way that Banas is reducing fossil fuel, while producing providing extraordinary food and beverage.