When you’re the new kid on a playground, you might be inclined to stand back and watch how the games are being played. This was not the case for Chef Daven Wardynski.
When he arrived at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort a little over 3 years ago, he planted the seeds needed to incorporate more local products into the resort’s dining options – quite literally. In his previous role as Executive Chef at the Omni Chicago Hotel, Wardynski sourced locally as much as possible, which included the creation of a rooftop garden and support of a bee farm in the suburbs to provide honey to the hotel.
When the chef transitioned to Amelia Island years later and saw an idle greenhouse, formerly used to grow flowers on the resort’s property, he knew what his next undertaking would be. Appropriately named The Sprouting Project was born and includes an aquaponic greenhouse, an organic garden, beehives, event space and a smokehouse, all thoughtfully planned to maximize the output based on growing seasons in Northeast Florida.
BUSY AS A…
Located directly behind The Sprouting Project’s greenhouse and nestled quietly among the native Florida palmettos, you’ll find our busiest workers. Sixteen colonies of bees toil around the clock to produce over a thousand pounds of local, organic honey each year for the resort. That honey is harvested by our culinary staff who have grown acutely familiar with the bee’s primary line of defense…its sting. Executive Chef Daven Wardynski fondly remembers incorporating additional hives into the growing colony.
“We recently decided to double the current bee population. 37 bee stings later, what was once one hive is now twenty-seven.”
The current population of The Sprouting Project’s colony is an astounding 2.5 million, give or take a few bees. The liquid gold that they produce is incorporated into nearly all of our restaurant’s menus, with plans to bottle individual jars of local Amelia Island honey for resale to the public.
AGED TO PERFECTION
One aspect of The Sprouting Project is the unique and diverse barrel room. The barrel room structure is constructed with solid poured cinder block and topped with a reclaimed pallet board roof. Outside the structure, natural earth covers the cinder block and pallet board roof, mimicking the “basement cool” similar to northern areas. Contents of our thirty-six barrels change often, but we always have a variety of fermented hot sauces (made with chili peppers from our hot pepper patch) and infused balsamic vinegars (comprised of wine and the season’s best vegetation – i.e. Georgia peaches) on hand. The middle section is comprised of our barrel aged cocktail program. Chef Daven has an affinity for gin, so he has made a special “Chef’s Negroni Cocktail”. Other barrels consist of an “Apple-Maple-Rum Old Fashion”, dandelion wine and Omni Amelia Island’s most popular cocktail, “Palmetto Honey Bourbon”. Everything produced from the barrels is used at all restaurants throughout the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort.
HERBS, FRUIT AND VEGGIES, OH MY!
The Sprouting Project Garden features a variety of fruits, vegetables and herbs along with a citrus orchard and pepper patch. From trellised tomatoes lining the perimeter of the Greenhouse to Satsuma Orange trees, the ingredients harvested from The Sprouting Project Garden are used to inspire new dishes and complement existing ones. That means you’ll find items from the garden in nearly every one of our menus. The resort’s culinary team works hard to harvest fresh, organic produce from the garden on an almost daily basis. With such a short time lapse from garden to table, the crop retains most of its nutrient value and provides guests with a product that is free of harmful substances like herbicides, fungicides and pesticides. The garden’s pepper patch includes a variety of chilli peppers that are used in our very own Chef’s Hot Sauce.
SYMBIOSIS IN ACTION
The Sprouting Project’s aquaponics greenhouse consists of a complex system of aquaculture and hydroponics. The variety of lettuces and plants that can be found in the greenhouse are continually fed from fish waste recycled from two 500-gallon tanks resting at the far end of the greenhouse. Within the gigantic blue tanks are numerous species of fish including blue gill, sunfish and bream. The fish are fed organic material and the resulting byproduct and waste provide a nutrient-rich food for the growing lettuces and other plants. The plants then filter the water, purifying it before it is returned to the fish. The aquaponics system produces a yield in about half the amount of time as a traditional soil garden. This frequent harvesting has already provided a serious return on the initial investment for The Sprouting Project, allowing our culinary team to use a considerable amount of local produce that would have normally been purchased from distributors and purveyors.