While some of us find it daunting to put together a meal for a small group, Chef Tony Hull doesn’t flinch at having hundreds of guests for a single meal. As the Executive Chef of the JW Marriott in Washington, DC, his events can include upwards of 1,000 people for lunch or dinner. By his estimates, the hotel’s kitchen staff cooks over a quarter of a million meals each year!
Chef Tony’s job involves managing multiple kitchens that provide catering to feed convention guests, fuel the hotel’s restaurant and bar, and serve hotel guests via room service and the hotel’s executive lounge.
With more than 35 years of professional cooking experience, Chef Tony credits his cooking philosophy to his grandmothers who taught him to cook in Hertfordshire, just north of London.
“My approach is the same as my grandmothers: If possible, grow it. If not, get it from someone who grows it. Don’t waste anything. Keep it simple. Let the ingredients speak for themselves.”
After attending culinary school and working in several restaurants and hotels in England, Chef Tony spent eight years cooking at hotels in the Caribbean before moving to Florida about 20 years ago. This is where he joined the Marriott family, spending time in both Tampa and Orlando. In 2016, he moved north to DC, where he has been an integral part of the JW Marriott team ever since.
At one of the Florida properties, Chef Tony had a 2,000 square foot chef’s garden, complete with an event space in the middle. Seasonal produce from the garden was prominently featured on the menu. The team used coffee grounds and eggshells from the kitchen as a soil amendment. The hotel also had its own hive of honey bees in the garden.
Chef Tony envisions bringing more of these sustainable practices to the JW Marriott though given the downtown location, it’s not always easy. He plans to put raised beds in the courtyard to grow produce, and is exploring putting bees on the roof.
Having multiple kitchens on the property gives Chef Tony other ways to incorporate sustainability into his meal planning at the JW Marriott. “We can use egg yolks in the bakery, and take the whites to the frittata station,” he says. He braises an entire short rib, cuts the perfect portions for one restaurant, then uses the trimmings in a sauce for a pasta dish at another restaurant. “Though there’s nothing wrong with a mis-shapen short rib,” he points out.
The chef and his kitchen team also rely on “batch cooking” for buffet meals to help match quantities as closely as possible to the diners’ demand. This results in both a fresher product for customers and less uneaten food. Single serving portions also help. Wherever possible, the kitchen tries to re-use or donate leftover food to avoid waste.
Operating at this huge scale gives Chef Tony and the staff at the JW Marriott the opportunity to make hundreds of thousands of meals more sustainable by building relationships with local farmers, understanding his customers’ needs and using skillful cooking strategies. Close coordination with his team is really at the core. “Trying to take all these steps ahead of time, each one dominoes on from the last one.”
Keep up the good work, Chef Tony! We know your grandmothers would be proud.
Written by: Dan Israel