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Behind the Line: Fair seas

Fairmont hotels follow through on sustainable seafood commitment

By Lauren Kramer
June 05, 2012

When you oversee food and beverages for a sizeable hotel chain like Fairmont, decisions pertaining to seafood buying can have a large impact, touching some 43 properties and their restaurants, in-room dining, bars and banquet departments across the Americas. So when Fairmont rolled out its seafood sustainability initiative in 2009, its affect was widespread. The initiative mandated that chefs no longer procure or serve Chilean sea bass or bluefin tuna, and that they align themselves locally with reputable organizations to ensure they make sustainable seafood choices for their respective properties. 

In a press release issued at the time, the company declared its “commitment to ocean sustainability means working with reputable suppliers who purchase fish that are resilient to fishing pressure and harvested in ways that limit damage to marine or aquatic habitats. Fairmont will also make it easier for guests to make informed food choices by identifying responsible seafood choices on its restaurant menus.”

For some properties, like the Fairmont Sonoma Mission & Spa in Sonoma, Calif., the initiative resulted in only a few changes and tweaks to the menu. 

“All our seafood is sustainable and wild, and even for our employees’ meals, we only buy frozen, wild fish if we can’t get it fresh,” says Bruno Tison, executive chef. For other properties, it meant more drastic changes. The Fairmont Empress in Victoria, British Columbia, switched to purchasing 90 percent of its seafood according to the recommendations of Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program. “The challenges in having an Ocean Wise menu are an increase in our costs and limited product availability,” reflects Kamal Silva, executive chef. “But the overall value perceived by guests is that we care about the sustainability of the world’s oceans.”

Seafood constitutes 15 to 50 percent of the menu at Fairmont hotel restaurants, depending on their location. The company spends $10.5 million for approximately 1.1 million pounds of seafood annually, and consumption is highest in the banquet arena. “That’s the big gorilla,” says Stellner. “Close to 50 percent of our food and beverage business is derived from banquets.”

At the Fairmont Empress in Victoria, banquets serve 60 percent of the hotel’s seafood, primarily salmon, sablefish, halibut and shellfish, while at the Fairmont Olympic in Seattle, banquets constitute 45 percent. “Halibut, scallops and salmon are the main players in all our applications,” says Executive Chef Gavin Stephenson.

The chefs source their seafood from some of the 20 regional and national seafood suppliers Avendra has negotiated for Fairmont’s properties. Avendra, a procurement services company that leverages its customers’ buying power to negotiate deals with key suppliers, selects those vendors based on quality, consistency, quantity, sustainability and price. Stacey Dash, VP-marketing and communications at Avendra, says Fairmont chefs are actively involved in the regional food advisory team. 

Once those vendors have been negotiated, their information is submitted to the hotels. “We ask [each chef] to use those vendors,” Stellner says. “But they do have flexibility to go outside of Avendra’s list to a small degree, for example, to deal with local fishermen in order to give guests a local experience.” Silva uses Fishermen’s Wharf in Victoria, visiting the boats of local fishermen and chatting with them about their fishing methods and sustainability. “We must feel comfortable with them and their practices before we allow them to become a supplier,” he says.  

At the corporate level, Mariano Stellner, Fairmont’s corporate director of food and beverage (F&B) for the Americas, discusses sustainability issues with his team in regional calls and internal communications with staff. “I believe the only way to have a meaningful impact on an initiative like this is through education,” he says. “You educate your culinary and F&B teams and your guests, and that’s how you make an impact,” he says. 

Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer lives in Richmond, British Columbia

June 2012 - SeaFood Business 

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