Name: John Janucik
Title: Executive Chef
Location: JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes
Years in Current Position: Almost three years
Primary Responsibilities: “I focus on food costs, food specs, menu development, guest satisfaction scores, event survey scores, wages, financials, associate engagement, recruiting, training, and growing fun within.”
Organization’s most significant f&b-related, sustainability-related accomplishment: “Whisper Creek Farm. It is our 7,000-square-foot fruit and vegetable garden with an adjoining 11,000-square-foot outdoor event space.”
Organization’s most significant f&b-related, sustainability-related challenge moving forward: “The culinary talent has shrunk greatly. The talent pool is small. Hiring good talent and developing them. Also, increasing our volume of donations to Second Harvest Food Bank.”
ORLANDO, FLA.—The garden has been John Janucik’s playground for a long time. “When I was a child growing up, I had a garden,” he says. “When I was five or six years old, I was in the newspaper for growing a 130-pound pumpkin.” Today, Janucik still has a home garden but it is the 7,000-square-foot on-site Whisper Creek Farm that challenges him most at the JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes. The farm supplies food for the 13 restaurants at the JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes and Ritz-Carlton Orlando at Grande Lakes that both sit on 500 acres in Orlando.
Janucik oversees Whisper Creek Farm: The Kitchen, a restaurant at the resort, as well as a handful of other eateries including Primo, which features Italian cuisine. Janucik begins his day early, usually arriving by 6:30 or 7 a.m. to begin his rounds—walking through all the kitchens, making sure his staff is in attendance and beginning prep for the day. He’ll take a spin by the breakfast buffet, ensure everything looks perfect, and then he’s off to check in with the banquet and meeting teams to review the day’s schedule of special events. His day is filled with stops in the resort’s restaurants and strolls through Whisper Creek Farm where his creative juices get flowing.
Janucik says that when it comes to food, the resort’s sustainability success is strongly linked to Whisper Creek Farm. That farm’s story is woven into the resort’s restaurant menus and the ingredients that make up what is served.
“Whisper Creek Farm has been around five to six years,” Janucik says. “It started out with a garden. Over the past four to five years we have expanded and are currently looking to further expand the footprint of the farm.”
Egg-Producing Chickens, Quail, Ducks
Whisper Creek Farm is the home of 50 chickens and 150 quail that provide eggs. “We built a duck run,” Janucik says. “We wanted to have more ducks to add more eggs.” The birds help to fertilize the farm as well.
Fruits and vegetables grown include lettuce, zucchini, tomatoes, carrots, peppers, berries, papaya, bananas, mangos, avocados, lemons, tangerines, oranges, cucumbers, collard greens, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, limes, pineapples, kumquats patch and much more. A variety of herbs are also grown.
“We have eight bee hives,” Janucik says. “We will add 15 more. Our goal is to have 100 percent of our honey coming from apiaries.”
To maintain Whisper Creek Farm, the resort partners with Bumper Crop, a Central Florida company that manages the on-site apiary and the Primo Organic Garden, a raised-bed garden producing herbs and produce for the Primo Restaurant.
Future plans for Whisper Creek Farm include permaculture methods for fertilization, a composting area, and a fenced area for cows and chickens.
Local Farms Benefit from Purchasing
For restaurant ingredients it cannot produce itself, the resort works with local farms. “Fresh Point is our main produce company,” Janucik says. “They partner with all the local farms. They send us a weekly chef sheet. That is how we write menus. We have consolidated our orders to three a week.” U.S. Foods provides dry goods.
Whisper Creek Farm, which is located next to the sixth tee box on the Greg Norman-designed golf course and borders a peaceful nearby creek (the inspiration for the farm’s name) is used for occasions such as weddings and a fall Homestead and Harvest event.
“The largest event we have done [at the farm] is 700 people,” Janucik says.
Tours are given of the farm, it is talked about in restaurants, and is prominently featured on the hotel’s website. “The site visit is where we can really deliver our sustainability message,” Janucik says. “People really want to know where their food is coming from.”
Food Waste Converted to Energy
Sourcing food as local as possible is just part of the resort’s sustainability story. Food waste is provided to Harvest Power which converts it to green energy. Harvest Power then returns three to four tons of compost to the resort annually. A green team meets monthly. There is single-stream recycling and the resort currently has a waste diversion rate of 15 percent. The current goal is to increase that to 25 to 30 percent. Second Harvest Food Bank picks up still-servable food several times a week. Fryer oil is recycled, all lighting is LED and sensors in meeting rooms turn off lighting when it is not needed.
Chef Janucik’s path into the kitchen began quite by accident. His first job was a bus boy on New Year’s Eve at a small seafood restaurant in Connecticut. While his shift necessitated him being out in the front of the house with the diners, the budding chef found himself spending time with the guys in the kitchen whenever he could. It wasn’t long before he was washing dishes, doing prep, and upon high school graduation, he decided he was headed to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, N.Y., where he graduated with a Culinary Arts Degree.
Janucik joined Marriott Hotels in 2006, after spending a number of years working for Hyatt Hotels, and has been with the company at various properties throughout Orlando before being named Executive Chef at the JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes.
When asked what he enjoys most about his work, Janucik said, “I think having the garden and the ability to be creative—especially when you get to the Executive Chef level. Having the farm here and the ability to get the team out there, it gets your creative side going. It is also the relationship I have with the farmers, the beekeeper, and working with my staff.”
Glenn Hasek can be reached at email@example.com.