Tom Klare
All The Trends Fit to Eat
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All The Trends Fit to Eat

Irene Sax / June 2011

McLean, Virginia—You think you buy locally? Think again. At Härth, a new restaurant at the Hilton McLean Tysons Corner, the honey isn’t just local, it’s made on the hotel roof by their very own bees. The mint in executive chef Thomas Elder’s chocolate/mint Mojito and the rosemary sprigs in his fire-roasted chicken? They’re grown in an herb garden out back. And don’t get Elder started on his house-made ketchup and his plans for pepper oils and jam made with his home-grown ghost peppers, which, until 2010, the Guinness Book of World Records called the world’s hottest.

Elder’s locavore goals for Härth go beyond the local mushrooms and Virginia wines and beers on the menu. Not only did he plant a garden last year, he encouraged hotel guests with children to let them pick raspberries from the bushes. Not only did he find nearby sources for poultry and produce, he invited growers to set up a farmers’ market on the hotel parking lot on Saturday mornings. And when he noticed that the honeycombs on his cheese platters came from Australia, he asked, “Why can’t we have local honeycombs?” and became, as far as he knows, Hilton’s first chef/beekeeper.

“I tried to talk them into a goat so we could make our own cheese,” says Elder. “Maybe next year.”

These days, locavore fervor isn’t unusual. What is unusual is that it’s being practiced at a restaurant that’s a flagship in Hilton Hotel and Resorts’ program to rejuvenate the status of their hotel dining.

“The philosophy in the past was that we had to build restaurants so guests could have breakfast,” says Beth Scott, vice president of restaurant concepts for Hilton Hotels and Resorts. “We added lunch and dinner service, but often wound up with tumbleweeds blowing through the rooms. Then a couple of years ago we decided that if we had to do it, we should do it really well.”

Härth, with its wood-burning oven and new American menu, was designed to suit the food-savvy population and hotel guests of the Washington, D.C. area. Could it also be a model for restaurants in other Hilton locations? “We’re opening restaurants all over the world,” says Scott. “There’s no plan to package Härth and put it in different places, because every area is different. What they’ll all have in common is that they’ll be in hotels but not feel like hotel restaurants.”

And the name? Don’t think it’s German because of the umlaut over the “a”. It’s the phonetic spelling of “hearth,” which, with its connotations of warmth, hospitality, and good eating, is what Elder and Hilton want you to expect from their new venture.