Talking with Executive Chef Scott Brittingham
1. Tell us about Trellises at the Hyatt
Trellises is our multi-purpose restaurant located in the lobby of the Hyatt in Jacksonville. We serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner and prepare the food for our two in-hotel lounges, Jaxx Sports Bar and Currents Lounge. Our focus at Trellises is on American regional cuisine, including lots of seafood. We also customize our menu for people who have special dietary requirements.
2. What do you mean by “American regional cuisine?”
Our twist is on Southern-influenced cuisine, because we are in the South, but we also include items from my background on the East Coast, and from the Midwest, which tend to feature more beef dishes. Hyatt gives us the creative freedom to build a menu that represents our local strengths and points of view. That’s what I’ve done with Trellises.
3. How would you describe the Hyatt approach to food?
At every Hyatt we embrace an approach we call "food, thoughtfully sourced and carefully served." It’s a philosophy of food that’s good for our people, our planet and our communities. Here in Jacksonville that means working closely with local purveyors. For example, Fresh Point provides our produce. Every week they send me a list of local farms from which they’re sourcing their produce. Depending on the time of year and particular item, the farms could be located anywhere from southern Florida to Georgia. By working with a local purveyor, I always have a good selection of local farms to pick from for my produce.
The farm-to-table movement has been growing over the past few years and its something we’ve embraced here at Hyatt.
4. Where does the name Trellises come from?
If you walk into our lobby there are actual trellises that separate the restaurant from the main lobby area. It’s like being in a garden, with the trellises surrounding the restaurant.
5. Who’s the audience for Trellises?
We have a number of different audiences. Hyatt is a convention hotel, so we get a lot of large groups that come to the hotel. There are times when the convention doesn’t include a meal and we’ll get a few hundred people who will come to Trellises to eat. That can create a nice buzz in the lobby.
As a hotel, we also serve a lot of people who are visiting Jacksonville, either on business or on vacation.
Then we get a lot of local people who come to Trellises when they’re downtown or when we run one of our special dining events.
6. What sort of special dining events do you have?
We run a series of brunches and dinners that we re-introduced about five years ago and have been steadily growing every year since then. They’re primarily done for large holidays such as Mother’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. The brunches are set up buffet-style with various stations and a selection of entrees. Our seafood station will feature items such as smoked salmon, shrimp and oysters. We typically have two carved items such as a roast sirloin of beef and leg of lamb. Our omelette and waffle station is always a huge hit. This year, for Mother’s Day, our entrees included a duck breast with green peppercorn and shitake mushroom sauce along with fresh grouper made with a corn and chick pea relish. We also had a roasted chicken with leek and boursin cheese fondue. Of course, we also have a wide variety of desserts to choose from.
The brunches have been well received by the local community and we’re getting a lot of repeat guests, which is very rewarding to see.
7. What’s your role at the Hyatt?
I’m the executive chef. I’ve been with the Hyatt for 30 years, in eight different locations. I’ve been with the Hyatt here in Jacksonville for the past eight years.
8. How did you get to be an Executive Chef?
I attended the Culinary Institute of New York. When I graduated, I worked at a few independent hotels before joining the Hyatt in 1983. I just worked my way up through the ranks, and here I am today! It’s hard to believe it’s been 30 years.
9. Why did you decide to become a chef?
I was working in a local restaurant when I was in high school and it was time to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I applied to the Culinary Institute and was accepted for their two-year training program. It’s been a long, but rewarding, road from culinary school to executive chef.
10. What does it take to be successful on that road?
The number one thing is that you have to love it, because it’s not an easy job. You’re on your feet a lot. You miss a lot of holidays because you’re working when other people are out celebrating. But it’s a very rewarding career as well. You get to walk into a dining room and see people enjoying your food and thanking you for preparing a great meal. You also get a lot of flexibility to be creative with food. Chefs love to play with food - to try different combinations of flavors to see what works. Not everything does work! It’s an evolving process, but it’s a very enjoyable one to me.
11. How would you describe your style of cooking and how did you develop that style?
When I was in the Culinary Institute the focus was primarily on training in the French style of cooking. That was a big influence on what I did initially when I got out of school. Trends change over time and you tend to adapt with them.
12. Besides the farm to table trend you mentioned earlier are there other trends you’re seeing?
People are definitely wanting to eat healthier, that’s one big trend. Gluten free is another big trend we’re seeing. There are a lot of people who want to eat vegetarian as well. When we host a convention we’re seeing a big percentage of requests for vegetarian options. That is one of the bigger shifts I have seen during the last five years.
13. How do you keep in step with the trends?
I read a lot of the culinary magazines to get ideas and see what’s new. I also get feedback from our guests.
14. With so many new trends popping up, how do you come up with the recipes to satisfy them?
I rely a lot on my team to help come up with new ideas. I have a very strong team that works with me in creating new items for the restaurant. We have a rotational menu for vegetarian options with something different every day of the week. That way, if a guest is with us for a few days they’re not getting the same vegetarian dishes every day.
15. Do you have a personal favorite style of cooking?
I’m pretty flexible. I’m a simple guy when I eat at home but I like to create when I’m at work. I like spicy food myself, which is another trend I have been noticing. A lot of people like a little extra heat, but it’s not for everyone. I have to watch myself when I put together the menu to make sure I don’t go overboard with the heat. My chefs give me a hard time about that.
16. What would you suggest for someone new to Trellises who wants to get a sense for what your cooking is all about, especially if they want to try something with a Southern flair?
Florida is a great place for seafood and many people who come to Florida are looking to try our seafood. The Tuna Ahi Poke is a great starter course. It’s like an Ahi tartare. It’s made with sesame oil and soy sauce then served with our plantain chips. We also have a grouper sandwich that’s really good and shows off our fresh fish.
If you’re looking for something a little different and very Southern, we have a Low Country Boiled Shrimp appetizer. It’s made with corn and a toasted baguette crouton, and comes in a nice lemon and Old Bay broth.
17. What makes a dish “low country?”
It is a style of cooking you see in South Carolina and Georgia and is, in some ways, similar to traditional Southern cooking or New Orleans/Cajun-style cooking. Low country places an emphasis on seafood, so there is a lot of shrimp, oysters and crab in this style of cooking. My time in Savannah influenced me to bring a taste of the low-country to our menu here in Jacksonville.
18. What’s the most popular item on the menu?
We have an all-natural, grass-fed burger from Strauss Farms that’s been our number one seller since we added it to the menu. The marbling on the meat is unbelievable and the grass-fed approach gives the burger a lot more flavor than a regular burger.
19. Do you have anything that you’d consider a signature dish or especially indicative of your culinary style?
Something I’d consider a signature dish and that’s been so popular that we’ve had it on our dinner menu for several years is our seared sea scallops. I prepare it on a bed of saffron risotto with asparagus and crimini mushrooms. It’s really delicious! That is one of those dishes that people have begun to equate with Trellises, so it’s not going anywhere.
20. Have there been items that have really surprised you by their popularity?
Yes, our chicken and waffles! It’s a very Southern dinner dish featuring buttermilk fried chicken served on a waffle, along with our honey goat cheese butter and a side of collard greens. Not being from the South, I don’t think I really appreciated how much of a Southern staple it is. It's been on the menu about six months and is one of our most popular dishes now. Another surprise was our turkey burger, which we make with a mushroom compote and Flat Creek Lodge red cheddar cheese. That’s been selling really well. In a hotel restaurant like Trellises, you are serving people with all different tastes and expectations, so it is important that we have a diverse menu that appeals to many people.
21. What are some other Southern influenced dishes you feature at Trellises?
When many people think of the south and Florida, they think seafood. On the seafood side we have a very popular blackened grouper salad that’s made with bibb lettuce, frisee, mangoes, avocado and hearts of palm, along with a mango-lime dressing. Our Ahi tuna salad is made with a papaya and mango relish served on a bed of baby greens with a wasabi drizzle.
22. What’s your favorite item on the menu?
I’m a simple guy but I’m also from Philadelphia and we have a Philly sandwich on the menu that I’m pretty proud of. We make the bread in-house in our pastry shop. The Philly is among our top five sellers as well.
23. Can you tell us about one of your vegetarian dishes?
We have a Portobello Napoleon that’s made with a large portobello mushroom cap, which is about four to five inches wide. We marinate that in olive oil, garlic and basil. We then charbroil it on the grill along with roasted peppers and sliced cucumbers. We put that together with alfalfa sprouts and avocado in a tortilla wrap, with a little bit of hummus to keep it all sealed. That’s a great sandwich.
24. Are there differences from what travelers might want from your menu versus what you’d see from someone at a convention or walking in off the street?
We recently did some research and found out that many of the women who were staying with us were traveling on their own and didn’t necessarily want to sit by themselves in the restaurant. These travelers wanted to order room service but also wanted healthier options for their meals. We worked on a number of special recipes and introduced our Perfectly Portioned Menu, which has been very popular with a lot of our guests. We make the Perfectly Portioned Menu available through room service and in the restaurant as well.
25. What’s an example of something available on the Perfectly Portioned Menu?
We have a salmon dish served with tarragon sauce and chick peas. The sauce is a light, tomato-based sauce that’s scented with tarragon.
Another option is our hangar steak, served with quinoa or lentils and a side of fresh grilled asparagus or carrots.
We also serve a grilled tofu burger on a bed of Asian slaw that’s really good.
26. Do you make your desserts in-house?
Yes, we have our own pastry chef. Being in the South we sell a lot of Key Lime Pie. We make a great Bananas Foster Bread Pudding, which is very popular. We also feature a different gluten-free cheesecake every day of the week on the dessert menu.
27. How often do you change your menu at Trellises?
About every six months. We look at what’s selling on the current menu, and what’s not selling. If an item isn’t working, then we take it out and come up with something new to take its place. We’re also running specials all the time to get feedback from our guests. If a special is really popular we’ll look at bringing it onto the permanent menu.
28. Can you tell us about some of the other restaurants at the Hyatt?
There’s an Einstein’s Bagels. It’s a franchise, but we’re responsible for running it and our hotel employees work there.
Jaxx Sports Bar and Currents Lounge have traditionally relied on the menu from Trellises but we’re working to give them each a more unique menu specific to their audiences. If people are staying at the hotel with us for a few days, we want them to be able to have options throughout the hotel and not just a single menu.
Jaxx Sports Bar is your traditional sports bar. When there’s an event in downtown or a game going on, we’ll see a lot of people coming in to watch the game or grab something to eat after going to an event at night. We can get really busy around 11 p.m. when the Florida Theatre lets out.
Currents Lounge is a very nice, casual, open-air restaurant that’s focused on coffee and sandwiches. We serve Starbucks coffee and also feature a communal table we can use to put out hors d’oeuvres for parties.
29. Let’s talk about catering. Why do people choose the Hyatt for catering?
Hyatt in general takes great pride in its food and beverage services. We try to be cutting edge in what we do. We can suggest menus but also give clients a lot of flexibility to customize the menu to their particular requirements.
We also have great space and can do parties up to 3,000 people. We recently had a group of 3,200 for two days who ate breakfast, lunch and dinner with us. On an average day, we’ll serve 1,000 meals in the hotel. That’s everything from a bagel at Einstein’s Bagels to a full sit-down dinner in Trellises.
Although we’re primarily a convention hotel, we also do about 40 weddings a year at the hotel. We have lots of event space and rooms for guests who want to stay with us after the reception. Our location on the St. Johns River also makes for a beautiful backdrop for special events such as weddings or reunions.
30. Any thoughts about getting more local people to come downtown into Jacksonville?
We always like to see more people coming downtown. There are a lot of vacant apartments around the hotel that we’d like to see getting filled with tenants living downtown; however, you can tell that already there are a lot more people downtown then there were eight years ago when I came to Jacksonville.
31. Do events like One Spark help you or are they more transitory?
The downtown events like One Spark and the Jazz Fest are a big help. When they’re going on, we get really busy. It’s good business during the event itself and it also lets people discover, or re-discover, what we’re doing here at the Hyatt.
32. Are more people coming downtown?
Yes. Over the last eight years I’ve seen things evolving to where there are more people coming out to be downtown. We’re definitely seeing more local people coming to eat at Hyatt. I think people are looking for new and different places to eat and hotel restaurants are making a rebound. Ten years ago or so people didn’t tend to think about going out to a hotel restaurant, but there’s been a trend to make hotel restaurants more local and specialized and that’s attracting people back.