A Sense of Place on Amelia Island
Every once in a while in the culinary world there exists a relationship between a chef and a location that bring out the best in both, a synergistic relationship, where each is enhanced by the other’s presence. The chef recognizes the innate qualities of the place, appreciates the characteristics that make the setting unique and strives to spotlight a one-of-a-kind destination. Likewise the location provides the ingredients, the tools and the opportunity for the chef to create a remarkable experience for visiting guests.
Such is the case at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort, where Chef Daven Wardynski oversees the culinary program, including ten restaurants and lounges as well as all the catering and in-room dining services. The lush natural setting of the barrier island is a powerful attraction for guests; what makes any visit there more memorable is how the dining experiences are imbued with a sense of place. Through the use of ingredients both locally sourced and grown on the property, the chef creates a connection between the food and the guests. “By drawing on the beauty of the island and making it a focal point, we can also show that food has soul - then people respect it more. We can't take what we have here for granted,” says Chef Wardynski.
The resort’s annual Fish to Fork culinary weekend each May is one of many events at the Omni that provides the perfect stage for Chef Wardynski to showcase homegrown ingredients and the local catch brought in from the sea. From the opening night Low Country Boil to the the final Chef showdown, Wardynski offers ample opportunity for guests to appreciate the level of commitment he and his team have made to sourcing locally whenever possible. Attend any lunch or dinner at The Sprouting Project and attendees will see, touch and taste the fruits of the chef's labors, as he explains the various phases of their evolving edible enterprise at the resort. What began as a garden to grow ingredients for the property's kitchens has expanded into aquaponics, beehives and even barrel-aged vinegars and honeys.
Born in the Midwest, Chef Wardynski has learned through trial and error what season is suitable to grow vegetables, herbs and fruit on Amelia Island, as the planting and harvesting season in Florida differs greatly from the farm life of his childhood in Wisconsin. That does not discourage him however. "It's important to me to use local products and grow some of the resort's food. I have two reasons why I invest so much time into these projects," says the chef. The emotional connection to this undertaking is evident, as Wardynski takes a long pause to compose himself. "My two little girls. I want to show them where food comes from so they appreciate the hard work involved when you eat what's in season."