Sprouting Project On Amelia Island
Omni’s Executive Chef Daven Wardynski offers greenhouse-grown herbs and spices and honey he harvests on the enchanting island
By Carol Antman
Executive Chef Daven Wardynski grew up digging it. Not the soul music pouring out of nearby Motown. Soybeans. “From the age of 11 or so I had a hoe in my hand. From there you gain a deeper appreciation and affection for the food, how it benefits the community; how it is the community.” It was a soulful experience, one he’s passing onto his daughters today. They are his only helpers in the expansive aquaponic greenhouse he oversees at Omni Resort’s Amelia Island Plantation which provides produce for 10 menus in the resort. The little girls love to help. Sometimes they even name the plants. Recently Zoë tasted a leaf from a tray of growing greens and was puzzled. Slowly her expression changed from confusion to conclusion: “Dad, that tastes like salad,” she excitedly said. “That’s because it is,” he replied. “So now at 5 years old she understands that food grows. It doesn’t come from a bag at Walmart.”
He came in October 2012 with ideas to “reimagine” the resort’s menus and a passion project sketched on a cocktail napkin. “Not only am I growing some of the food that we use in our restaurants — I am trying to produce food with a soul,” he says. Commercial shrimping began nearby so a “Floribbean” cuisine features fresh seafood and the chef’s signature shrimp and grits. Beachside there are spicy Caribbean influences under the palm trees: coconut, mango slaw. Even the pizza joint has a sense of place. Its dough is made with water sourced from the ocean.
His legacy to Omni Amelia Island Plantation is the Sprouting Project. Inspired by his vague sketch, it’s become the chef’s playground. Honeybees seemed like a good idea until there were 1.3 million. “Where are we going to put all of this honey?!” A TV special about root cellars gave him an idea. “I want a cave!” So he built a “hobbit hole” for fermentation and gatherings. Chickens and goats are next. Tours of the project are offered every Saturday. Just-picked harvests are celebrated at intimate greenhouse dinners monthly. It’s clearly Daven’s favorite event. “That’s where you let a chef be a chef. It’s great to stand right there to represent the ingredients. Our challenge is to change what your food experience can be in a resort.” It’s dining rooted in reverence for the ingredients; it’s soulful.
The Sprouting Project hosts featured dinners monthly. Guests enjoy a true farm-to-table experience with access to the “Chef’s Playground.” $55 per guest. For reservations,
go to www.sproutingproject.com.