“A lot of chefs think that fine dining can only be Michelin-star type things. But hotels give a lot of diversity.”
So says Chef Joshua Hasho, of 676 Restaurant in Omni Hotel Chicago. The 29-year-old chef who sharpened his culinary teeth at The French Laundry and once worked with the Ritz Carlton is quietly stirring the pot in the hotel’s kitchens.
“Omni is one of the few companies that really believes in their food and beverage program,” Chef Hasho effuses. “They put a lot of faith in their chefs and don’t really constrain them.” This characteristic is what drew Chef Hasho to the Omni Hotel Chicago in the first place.
When Chef Hasho went in for an interview, he met with then-Chef Daven Wardynski, who is now the regional executive chef at Omni Hotels. “[Daven] was piecing together this charcuterie cooler. I thought it was cool,” Chef Hasho continues, “[H]e didn’t have to go through a whole bunch of bosses to get that done. The Omni seemed to support him, which is what I liked.”
676 Restaurant smokes, cures, and dry ages all their meats in house. They have a high focus on Midwestern cheeses and rotate their selection frequently. This writer would call their food seasonal but Chef Hasho hates “using the word seasonal because people think that’s only four times a year. Really, seasonal is whenever something is available. We don’t have a corporate grip over us so we can change anything we like.”
676 Restaurant also has an impressive preserving and pickling program, allowing for them to use many ingredients throughout the year. “We do stick to the Midwest vibe, but that’s not to say that we don’t bring in ingredients when they’re at their peak elsewhere.”
The rooftop garden at the Omni Hotel is another component that helps 676 Restaurant use nothing but the freshest produce (DYK the city of Chicago is home to more rooftop gardens than any other city in the country?).
“Everybody is doing the whole urban gardening thing,” Chef Hasho suggests. “We’ve developed it into greens, herbs, lettuces that we can use throughout the season to the point that we’re even using it for plated dinners and banquets…there’s that much.” But, in the harsh Chicago winters, the Omni’s rooftop garden cannot be used. That’s not stopping Chef Hasho, who is currently working on pushing forward a hydroponics program in the hotel’s basement.
“I’m working with Bill Shores, Rick Bayless’ personal gardener. He helped develop the outdoor rooftop garden and now we’re thinking about indoor tent gardening together,” Chef Hasho explains. “Right now, it’s in its infancy. It’s a big investment for what we want to do.”
While this and other projects continues to brew over at 676 Restaurant, there is one major event that is held across all Omni Hotel properties on a global level.
“At the end of the year we always do a Flavors of the World promotion. It’s three-months long and focuses on a different region of the world along with a detailed beverage program. This year, we’re doing wines of Rioja.”
The program highlights Northern Spain’s premier wine-making region, allowing diners to discover more about the area’s culture, wine, and cuisine.
“All the staff went to [Culinary Institute of Art] in San Antonio and spent a week over many sessions to understand the region’s authentic food and wine,” Chef Hasho describes. Once the chefs are trained in the cuisine, they bring that knowledge back to their respective properties and educate everyone on it, from the servers to the front desk, to ensure all guests get a well-rounded, knowledgeable experience.
“It’s going to be really cool to see. Our bar lends itself well to tapas and pintxos-style dining.”
Discover Rioja will run through December 31, 2017.