Roof to Table Dining at The Palmer House
September 1st, 2014
Recently The Palmer House Hilton, one of Chicago’s most famous and historic hotels invited me to meet their Chefs, tour their rooftop garden, and to taste some of their new menu items. I was treated to a memorable afternoon of eating and exploring the garden and I am excited to tell you all about it.
First I met Executive Chef Stephen Henry, an incredibly friendly man originally from Dublin, who has began his career in the culinary arts 29 years ago. He has cooked for everyone from Michelle Obama to Cher. Chef Henry brought us into the kitchen where we met Chef Matthew Wiltzius, who recently came to The Palmer House after working at The Waldorf Astoria, and who Chef Henry described as having been “sent from heaven.” The Chefs explained that Hilton Worldwide (The Palmer House’s parent company) is looking to increase its local sourcing and they want to take farm to table to the next level to help lead the charge. While The Palmer House’s kitchen aims to source up to 30% of their many ingredients they use – like maple syrup and chickens, from local purveyors, they have begun growing herbs, vegetables, and fruits on the hotel’s roof. The garden is a source of ingredients and inspiration for The Palmer House’s signature restaurant Lockwood.
I got to sample a variety of items prepared by Chef Wiltzius, the first being homemade hot sauces. Wiltzius explained that he never tires of making hot sauces, and it gives him the opportunity to use some of the peppers grown on the roof. He was able to masterfully balance sweet, salty, vinegar, and spicy flavors with the sauces.
We started things off by tasting the whipped homemade ricotta seasoned with herbs grown on the roof. Homemade ricotta is lightyears better than store-bought and whipping the ricotta added a lightness and creaminess to the snack. The ricotta was garnished with edible flowers grown on the roof.
Then we tried the roasted chicken, which was truly outstanding. The chickens are locally sourced and are cooked to perfection. The skin was crispy and covered in herbs, and the meat was tender and juicy and it was finished with a sauce made with local maple syrup. I can’t wait to visit Lockwood to have this chicken again.
We finished things off by trying the beef tenderloin. Seasoned on the outside, cooked until rare, and melt in my mouth tender, in a city known for steaks this speaks for itself. The steak was served with pickled swiss chard and fried potato, which was a creative play on the classic steak frites.
Then we headed up to the roof! It was a special day to be up on the roof since the Blue Angels were rehearsing for the Air and Water Show. This was also slightly terrifying those jets fly low and are shockingly loud.
The rooftop is filled with large barrel planters neatly arranged in four rows. The fruits, vegetables, and flowers represented the end of the summer harvest and the beginnings of the fall vegetable season growth.
Chef Henry enthusiastically lead me through the garden, excited to see what was growing and picking a few ripe vegetables to deliver to the kitchen. They were growing lots of herbs including basil and mint, various peppers, tall sunflowers, kale, eggplant, and tomatoes. The wide variety of items in the garden was impressive, and made me wish that I could successfully garden.
The back of the garden is occupied by bees. A local beekeeper visits the hotel regularly to care for them. The bees are a wonderful source of fresh honey for hotel guests.
The Palmer House’s restaurant Lockwood is known for serving seasonally influenced modern American cuisine in an upscale yet casual setting. It was so refreshing and inspiring to meet two chefs so genuinely excited by the food they are creating using locally sourced ingredients. I definitely plan to visit Lockwood again soon – I am eager to see what the fall harvest brings for the menu, and I really want to try that roast chicken again.
The Palmer House is located at 17 East Monroe Street, in Chicago’s Loop.