Six Relais & Chateaux Properties Expanding Regenerative Practices
Regenerative travel, a concept that barely existed a few years ago, has entered the mainstream conversation. There’s a community dedicated to promoting what many in the travel industry consider a critical evolution beyond sustainable travel. While sustainable tourism aimed to counterbalance the social and environmental impacts associated with travel, regenerative travel echoes agricultural practices meant to reverse climate change, not merely slow it down. In other words, travelers should leave a place better than they found it.
In 2016, hospitality association Relais & Chateaux, comprised of hotels and restaurants, partnered with NGO Slow Food with the collective goal of safeguarding biodiversity and culinary heritage. While specializing in different industries, both organizations have the same concerns for the planet. This exchange of ideas led Relais & Chateaux to launch an annual campaign called Food For Change in 2018. The campaign focuses on celebrating agricultural biodiversity to help shift consumer behavior, and this year the theme is regeneration.
“Relais & Châteaux chefs are guardians of biodiversity, acting as stewards of nature’s beauty, which in turn creates resiliency in our food system. Prioritizing soil health results in carbon drawdown and improved water cycles. This is regeneration. This is the future of gastronomy” says Olivier Roellinger, Vice President of Relais & Châteaux.
For travelers who want to eat and travel responsibly, here are four Relais & Chateaux properties where regenerative farming and tourism dovetail in demonstration of this year’s theme, plus two more well on their way.
Wickaninnish Inn, British Columbia
Mindfulness of the environment has always been an operational pillar of the Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino, British Columbia. Executive Chef Carmen Ingham and the team at The Pointe Restaurant focus on “growing roots” in the community by working with local stakeholders and producers.
“Exotic ingredients that were rare, expensive both in price and in process, and those that garnered an image of elitism, were once the hallmarks of luxury” says Ingham. “Nowadays, diners have become more aware of the delicate balance that our natural world exists in and are learning more about the ethics behind the food we eat” he adds.
Tofino Ucluelet Culinary Guild is a non-profit organization that connects Vancouver Island farmers, fishers, foragers and food producers to families, restaurants, groceries, and businesses on the west coast. The Pointe Restaurant was a founding member of TUCG and continues to foster this relationship to provide the best local products to guests and to support local farmers and producers.
Examples of these partnerships include Naas, the restaurant’s fish supplier. This Indigenous-owned business operates with the goal of ensuring that all the seafood they process is caught and sold locally in Tofino.
Seafood arrives at Wickaninnish Inn fresh, delivered to the kitchen in a tote rather than Styrofoam packaging. A regenerative product offered by Naas is kelp hand-harvested from the clean waters of Clayoquot Sound.
“The resurrection of heirloom seed varieties, methods of aquaculture that give back to the ecosystem, and biodynamic farming practices, are just a few of the ways that leading chefs are promoting a regeneration of our food systems, which ultimately has a trickle-down effect from fine dining to everyday home meals” says Ingham.
The Weekapaug Inn in Weekapaug, Rhode Island has set a goal of low to zero waste for its restaurant operations. In the United States, zero waste certificaiton is challenging to achieve due to the way food is delivered (largely in plastic and other single-use materials), stored (same), and disposed of, from packaging to food scraps.
To be certified zero waste, restaurants must divert 90 percent of their resources away from trash bins and refills which requires reducing, reusing, or otherwise recycling most of their ingredients, tools, and other resources. Even low waste has hurdles, but the Weekapaug Inn has set a course, starting with a new partnership with Earth Care Farms, Rhode Island’s oldest operating compost farm.
“The local environment is important to us and and our guests, so it’s our responsibility to use the best regenerative culinary practices available” says Andrew Brooks, Executive Chef of Weekapaug Inn. “We are proud to work with local farmers on more sustainable farming cycles; we continuously look for new ways to be good stewards of the land and sea” he says.
Earth Care Farms composts the property’s food scraps which are repurposed into soil for nearby farmers. The inn takes a small haul, too, for use in the herb garden and greenhouse. To further reduce its carbon footprint, the inn recently installed a state-of-the-art geothermal heating and cooling system. The property’s previous system, though admirable, actively exchanged seawater; the new Rygan HPGX technology operates on a closed loop, meaning it has no impact on the aquifer or sensitive coastal ecosystems.
Finally, a white-water recycling system cleans and reuses wastewater by channeling it for irrigation, an important piece of the regenerative puzzle in a summer plagued by drought.
SingleThread Farms, California
SingleThread restaurant in Healdsburg, Sonoma County, California, has been in the spotlight for its Michelin-starred food born of careful farming and regenerative practices. A daily harvest of the restaurant’s 24-acre farm provides 70 percent of the produce, herbs, and cut and edible flowers used by Chef Kyle Connaughton.
The farm is run as a permaculture center with regenerative practices. The only land animals served in the restaurant are free-range Duclair ducks raised for SingleThread by a local farm, and grass-fed, free-range Wagyu beef from a ranch 15 minutes away. The ranch spans 300 acres and forms part of a regenerative land management program. (You can read more about their work here and here. Some sustainability advocates criticize pasture-raised beef, however. Read those arguments here.)
“At SingleThread Farm, we have an incredible opportunity to amplify our agricultural focus along with our educational purpose. Our team can share knowledge of regenerative agricultural practices through tours and at our Farm Store. It is as much a farm as a learning space for our guests who want to deepen their relationship and knowledge about where their food comes from” says Chef Kyle Connaughton.
While best know for its restaurant, the insider secret is that SingleThread runs a small 5-room guest inn on the second floor above the restaurant. Four 450-500 sf rooms and one 700 sf suite, feature soaking tubs, Toto toilets, and heated floors plus breakfast imagined by Connaughton. Guests of the inn also have a guaranteed reservation in the restaurant, though they can forego heading downstairs and instead take an 11-course tasting menu in the room, mirroring a ryokan experience in Japan.
On the rich volcanic island of Grenada sits Calabash Luxury Boutique Hotel. An hour away, a 200-year-old family farm serves the property’s culinary needs. The farm’s daily harvest informs the seasonal menu, largely comprised of fruits and vegetables. Regenerative farming practices, including agroforestry and intercropping, help build soil and maintain biodiversity. Trees and other food crops, including banana, breadfruit, and guava, grow amidst the cocoa and nutmeg trees. This farming method yields richer soil and in turn, higher yields and healthier, more nutritious crops.
“Greater importance has to be placed on where our food comes from and the footprint the ingredients have taken to reach our plates” says the hotel’s executive chef Ramces Castillo. “It is our responsibility to get our guests and clients excited about changing habits to normalize sustainable behaviors and attitudes to food. If not us, then who? Agriculture is responsible for the 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions and this would be the easiest and fastest change to make” he says.
Two More to Consider
Secret Bay, Dominica
Set on a cliff backed by a jungle, Secret Bay is a secluded haven of food and wellness. The property incorporates regenerative practices in part due to its location. The culinary team composts scraps for use in the villas’ organic gardens. Chef forages and sources local ingredients for a seasonal no-menu concept at restaurant Zing Zing. Secret Bay’s toiletries are sourced from local ingredients, as are the products used in spa treatments. One of the resort’s most popular experiences is lionfish spearing. Managing the population of this invasive species supports coral reef health and in turn, aids the community which benefits from reef fish.
Inn at Hastings Park, Lexington, MA
The Inn at Hastings Park offers immersive food and wine experiences just 15 minutes outside of Boston. The inn’s owner and culinary educator, Trisha Pérez Kennealy, has been a long-standing supporter of local New England farms. The Inn works with Wilson Farm, located minutes away; Codman Community Farms, located in Lincoln, MA; and the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project. Trisha is an active member/advisor of Codman Farms and New Entry. Additional efforts taken by Executive Chef Alissa Tsukakoshi in the restaurant Town Meeting Bistro include cooking less popular cuts of meat like braised lamb neck for a “lamb cavatelli” and growing kitchen herbs in the garden.