It’s been a decade since Omni Hotels & Resorts focused on Chile for its annual Flavors of the World promotion, and in those last 10 years, Chilean cuisine has made a name for itself within North American wine and culinary circles.
While the explosion of Chilean wines has been widely documented and will be well represented within the campaign’s specialty Chilean wine list, Omni’s vice president of food and beverage, David Morgan, says that the nuances and developments within Chilean food are more difficult to pin down than the advancements in the country’s winemaking. This difficulty is the reason he says it was crucial for the success of the event that he and all of Omni’s food and beverage directors travel right to the source and learn the basics [and beyond] of Chilean flavors and preparations.
“The immersion piece generates enthusiasm, and that’s so important since there has to be a sense of ownership on a hotel-level for these promotions if you want to have success,” Morgan says. “And the second piece is that you want the people responsible for selling to really understand what makes the wine and food special.”
In addition to putting boots on the ground in Chile, all of Omni’s chefs were also sent to The Culinary Institute of America’s San Antonio campus to learn the nuances of the cuisine’s taste, look, and cooking style, all taught during a three-day course led by Chilean instructor and chef Rocío Alvarado Díaz. After all, Morgan didn’t want the Omni staff to rely on guesswork or to use an “interpretation” as a cop out.
While he believes that this deep knowledge is important for every year’s event, Morgan says that for Chilean cuisine, which relies on preparation and not necessarily flavor as a differentiator, this year’s trip was even more critical to the programs success.
“It’s not necessarily the flavor profile that’s distinctive when it comes to Chile,” he says. “It’s really how they make their dough and a certain quality in the preparation. The only way I can describe it is very fresh, approachable, and homemade, but also very labor intensive.”
For instance, Morgan remembers being surprised by the empanadas he and his team perfected while in the country, which were much larger and juicer than what is typically served in the U.S.
Other uniquely Chilean items on the special ¡Destinación Chile! menu are choritos [spicy steamed mussels] and Chile corn soup, with desserts such as tres leches cake and arroz con leche.
Omni partnered with Wines of Chile to create the menu for the event, which includes traditional favorites like those listed above, along with a wine list curated from the country’s varied growing regions.
And while the team at Omni is thoroughly familiar with the process of wine production, the Chilean trip, complete with a full in situ wine education and interaction with local winemakers, gave them something far more useful than an observation of rows of steel tanks.
“It becomes more important that there be a connection to the culture, to the wine-maker, and to the terroir—that’s where the passion starts,” Morgan explains.
He firmly believes that it’s this passion on the part of the salesperson that directly leads to high wine sales during the event.
In addition to the extensive but approachable wine list, which covers familiar favorites like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay along with lesser-known varieties such as Carmenere, Omni is also putting Pisco, a popular Chilean clear brandy, on the drink menu with the addition of two limited-time cocktails.
To promote the event, which runs for three months, Omni is starting within the lobby of its 60 hotels across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, where guests will immediately see either a display or be offered a small tasting before being presented with a separate, Chilean-focused menu at the start of their dining experience.
While Omni is still waiting on the hard numbers from the first half of the three-month promotion, Morgan says the event has been hitting all sales projections and has garnered positive feedback on social media.
The 2015 Flavors of the World event, which marks the 14th year of the event, will end on December 31.
By Emily Byrd