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Chef's at the Fairmont Pittsburgh Hotel Take Recycling to a New Level
While Getting All Lathered Up

By Kim Leonard, The Pittsburgh Tribune-ReviewMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

April 09, 2011--Chefs at the Fairmont Pittsburgh cook with locally grown beef, and since the hotel opened a year ago they've taken care to use nearly every part of a slaughtered cow that didn't become steaks or burgers.

Bones, for example, are used to make stocks and soups for Habitat, the Downtown hotel's restaurant. But one question remained: How could the trimmed-off fat be reused?

"We had this byproduct. What could we do with it?" said Andrew Morrison, executive chef. He did a Google search on "beef fat" one day, and started reading about people who turn fat into soap.

The hotel began handing out cakes of its soap made in-house last week at its anniversary celebration. Special guests will get packages of the soap made in small quantities for now, but at some point, it might be sold at the Fairmont's health club and spa.

Morrison made a few batches on his own to work out the recipe. Then he turned the project over to Paula Smagacz, a sous chef. "She is making some fantastic soaps so far," he said.

The recipe still may get a final tweaking. Some early batches that culinary staff took home smelled a little beefy. That problem was fixed, and Smagacz now is turning out molded soaps with lavender chamomile, rosemary mint, eucalyptus, lemon grass, pear ginger and oatmeal honey scents.

The beef fat is made into tallow by melting and straining it into a pure substance. The tallow then is blended with water, coconut oil, blended vegetable and olive oils, lye and natural aromatic oils and teas to create the various scents. Flower petals and herbs may be added to the cakes for decoration.The process takes two weeks, and it's all done in the hotel kitchens.

On a typical week, Morrison said, one grass-fed cow is slaughtered at Burns Angus Farm in New Wilmington for the hotel's use. The Fairmont Pittsburgh's culinary team does the butchering.

Morrison also sources other meats plus fruits and vegetables, eggs and other foods from farms and vendors in the Pittsburgh area for use in the 185-room hotel.

Matt Mehalik, program manager for the Pennsylvania Resources Council Inc., said he hadn't heard about the Fairmont's soaps. Still, "We have many organizations that are starting down this route, toward creative reuse of materials that otherwise would be discarded," he said.

Examples related to food: Fossil Free Fuel LLC of Braddock, which collects waste grease from restaurants and turns it into biodiesel fuel, and an Eat'n Park restaurant in the Waterworks Mall near Pittsburgh's border with Fox Chapel composts waste.

Mehalik said he wishes the hotel success in turning waste it had to pay to get rid of into a useful product. "Knowing the Fairmont, it will be a nice product," he said.

Guests who have been given cakes of the soap so far have been pleased, and a little surprised. "I don't think people realize how you make soap," he said, but certain makers value beef fat as an ingredient because it adds a rich texture.


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