For a resort the size of Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, it can be challenging to implement organic and sustainable food strategies. The 120-acre, 4,000-room resort brings in about $65 million in banquets and another $60 million in restaurants per year. That means purchasing nearly $2 million in food annually.
Mandalay Bay Executive Chef Susan Wolfa admits it’s especially tough to source sustainable items for banquets, given the size and scope of the events. “If we go to an organic producer and say, ‘I need 10,000 pounds of organic potatoes,’ that may be their entire crop for the year,” Wolfa explained during an NEWH Green Voice event at HD Expo, which is being held this week at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center.
The resort’s desert location doesn’t help matters. Wolfa said there is some cattle production in Nevada, but not enough for the amounts the property would require. Mandalay Bay tries to buy products from the Western region whenever possible, uses grass-fed beef for its filet product, and sources hormone- and antibiotic-free chicken from California. Seafood mostly comes from California also, and the resort uses Monterey Bay’s Seafood Watch list to choose the most sustainable options.
It’s much easier to purchase sustainable ingredients for the resort’s smaller restaurants. For example, Wolfa said the property purchases hydroponic chives and basil from a local farmer. “As things become available, we work as much as we can to purchase sustainably.”
The culinary team tries to write menus seasonally, especially for banquets. When clients come in for tastings, the staff asks them to look ahead and envision produce that will be available during the season the event will be held.
The banquet menu includes a sustainable section, but Wolfa said organic menus can cost 30 to 40 percent higher than the resort’s regular ones. “When people see the markup on that, the appetite for it goes down, but I think there is still a demand for it.”
More sustainably-driven initiatives will be introduced when the Delano Las Vegas debuts in September in the place of THEhotel at Mandalay Bay. For instance, a local company is going to repurpose the property’s old Skyy Vodka bottles into water glasses, pitchers, and napkin rings for tabletops. The banquet menus have been rewritten specifically for the Delano, one for spring/summer and another for fall/winter. “Just by doing that we can cut down on bringing in things that are out of season or that we have to get from very far away,” Wolfa said.
In addition to a Culinary Institute of America degree, Wolfa has a bachelor’s of science degree in cell and developmental biology from Purdue University. Given her educational background, she often thinks about biodiversity and its effect on food supply. “The $2 million we spend on food, that’s a huge buying power,” Wolfa said. “If you look at chefs in general, we could make something extinct simply by not buying the other thing. So that does concern me.”
Sustainability also carries over into Wolfa’s personal life. She has an organic garden at home and is in the middle of constructing a chicken coop so she can raise her own chickens. “I feel like I need to be involved on a personal level because a lot of that translates to what I’m doing here at work.”