ORLANDO/CENTRAL FLORIDA Construction is under way at Grande Lakes Orlando, a 500-acre resort that is home to both the Ritz-Carlton Orlando and JW Marriott Orlando, to create an outdoor event space and year-round fruit and vegetable garden. The property, dubbed Whisper Creek Farm, is located on the south side of the resort, near the golf course. It will include a 7,000-square-foot garden and 6,000-square-foot event lawn that can accommodate up to 250 people.
“We did an event on a farm in Osceola County and it was so popular, we wanted to be able to replicate that,” said Chris Brown, executive chef at the JW Marriott Orlando. “We started looking for farms closer to the hotel, and there really was nothing closer than 30 minutes. So we said maybe we can build one on property. There’s been criticism of ‘farm to fork’ because it’s being overused. We want to make sure we hold true to it. So when we say ‘farm to fork,’ we are actually bringing guests right out to the farm.”
The resort is working with My Yard Farm, a Central Florida company that already manages a small garden at the resort used by Primo restaurant. Work began on Whisper Creek Farm July 4, and Brown expects it to be finished by early September. Plantings include sweet potatoes, pumpkins, Swiss chard, cucumbers, mustard greens, avocados, bananas, mangoes, cherries, and nearly two dozen varieties of citrus trees. Three beehives will provide pollination for the flowering plants as well as a steady supply of honey. Items from the garden will be used by the two hotels’ restaurants and catering departments.
“We’ll be using them fresh as well as creating pickled vegetables,” Brown said. “We’ll use the citrus in drinks, create waters flavored with vegetables and fruits, and different flavored bitters for the bar.”
The new event lawn will have three coquina rock pads around the perimeter that will each hold two grills for cooking on-site. For sit-down events, the resort can set up a 100-foot-long rustic table in the center of the lawn that can seat 70 people on each side. For smaller groups, there will be two eight-foot tables with bench seating permanently installed under an oak tree. Paths will connect the event lawn to the garden.
“The garden is built for people to walk through it. We are going encourage guests to walk there and pick vegetables and taste them. It’s all part of the experience of the event,” Brown said.
The resort has its first private event scheduled in the new space on October 8. A ribbon-cutting is planned for October 12.