Composting in Yosemite National Park: Another Stop Along the GreenPath

mariposa_county_garbage_truckFor park visitors, the image of a garbage truck in Yosemite National Park is not the souvenir that represents American wilderness or precious family vacation memories. Yet, the garbage truck and the purpose it serves are a very important part of maintaining lodging and services in the park. How we go about utilizing this service and the impact on the park itself are top concerns for the concession operations managed by DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite. A sense of stewardship gave rise to GreenPath®, a formal, documented and comprehensive plan covering just about everything we could think of to preserve and protect natural resources. In Yosemite, DNC recycles over 30 different types of materials and we are justifiably proud of our extensive recycling program in one of America’s most treasured landscapes, but did you know that we also have a composting program? Composting can be viewed as the recycling of organic waste and makes up more than 10% of waste coming from the park that is diverted from the landfill. DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite works in cooperation with the Mariposa County Landfill, Recycling and Composting Facility located 48 miles outside of Yosemite National Park. Mariposa County collects organic waste along with garbage in the same trucks – but from separate waste collection bins marked with an “O” for organic – reducing transportation costs. Organic waste includes materials such as kitchen waste, biodegradable utensils, cups and plates and of course, leftover prepared food. organic_dumpsterWith 25 restaurant locations and 8 stores offering grocery items in the park, food waste can be significant. All commercial kitchens in Yosemite have designated compost collection bins, including the High Sierra Camps where waste has to be packed out by mule or horse.  In addition to restaurants, three food & wine events that impact the composting process are hosted in the park at The Ahwahnee each year: Vintner’s Holidays, Bracebridge Dinner at Yosemite, and Chefs’ Holidays. However, not all organic waste is generated by park visitors – park residents also separate their compostable waste. In Yosemite, the employees are also community members and stewards of public lands. This is just one component of DNC’s GreenPath program, dedicated to preserving and protecting the natural resources of the special places where we provide hospitality services. We can take pride in the fact that with the addition of the composting program in 2009, our recycling practices result in 65% of the waste generated by DNC-managed park operations is diverted from the landfill each year.

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The Ahwahnee’s Executive Chef Percy Whatley Studies to Become a Certified Master Chef

Chef Percy's Roasted Pork Loin with Chorizo, Sweet Potatoes, Collards and Maple Tequila Glaze. Photo by Teri Marshall.

Chef Percy’s Roasted Pork Loin with Chorizo, Sweet Potatoes, Collards and Maple Tequila Glaze. Photo by Teri Marshall.

In your personal dining experience, you may think you know a master chef or two, but you probably don’t. “Master Chef” is a term that is tossed around rather casually, but the fact is that a Certified Master Chef (CMC) is an actual classification conferred upon those who endure a rigorous eight day long practical exam that tests your culinary knowledge and abilities. Established by the American Culinary Federation in 1981, the CMC program has fewer than 70 classified CMCs, and Delaware North Companies employs one of them  – Chef Roland Henin – to oversee the culinary operations of this international company. Not long ago, The Ahwahnee’s Executive Chef, Percy Whatley, was approached by Chef Roland to embark on this certification course. In his blog entry on website Toqueland, Percy said, “A few years ago, Kevin Doherty, chef of Boston’s TD Garden, which like the Ahwahnee is a Delaware North Companies property, and I were nominated by Chef Roland Henin, our corporate chef and mentor, and a Certified Master Chef (CMC) himself, to be the ‘chosen ones’ and  be supported in the venture of training and developing with the goal of passing the Certified Master Chef exam. The CMC exam takes place over eight days and 130 hours, and includes challenges in disciplines ranging from Classical Cuisine to Buffet Catering to Freestyle to Global Cuisine to Bakery and Pastry. Only 66 people have attained the level of CMC: one is Roland himself, who famously mentored Thomas Keller.”

With several years of study already under his belt, Chef Percy still must complete one final test in order to be certified at one of two campuses of the The Culinary Institute of America, either in New York or Napa Valley in 2014. In the meantime, you may be the beneficiary of Chef Percy’s ever-growing culinary knowledge during his Master Chef studies, as he oversees and prepares meals for the Signature Food & Wine Events in Yosemite that take place at The Ahwahnee every year: Vintners’ Holidays, Bracebridge Dinner and Chefs’ Holidays. During the fall, Vintners’ Holidays presents wine and the food it pairs with in a celebration that focuses on California winemaking. For the winter holidays, The Ahwahnee Dining Room is transformed into Bracebridge Hall of Merry Old England with a seven course feast and characters filled with song and good cheer. During the depths of winter, you can warm yourself at Chefs’ Holidays where the American culinary scene is showcased at cooking demonstrations and a gala dinner by visiting chefs. Packages including lodging, presentations and gala dinners are available for all three Signature Food & Wine Events.

Wine tasting at Vintners' Holidays. Photo by Chris Andre.

Wine tasting at Vintners’ Holidays. Photo by Chris Andre.

Holiday serenade at the Bracebridge Dinner

Holiday serenade at the Bracebridge Dinner. Photo by Lani Spicer.

Cooking demonstration for Chefs' Holidays. Photo by Chris Andre.

Cooking demonstration for Chefs’ Holidays. Photo by Chris Andre.

Though you can plan to attend an event in Yosemite that features Chef Percy’s culinary creations, you may also be lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time for an unexpected treat. This summer the Rotary Club of Yosemite shared a ‘practice’ California Luncheon prepared by Chef Percy that featured two choices: Summer Breeze menu featuring salmon and lobster vol-au-vent with watercress as well as local free-range roasted chicken and peach tart with huckleberry compote, or Plantation Supper menu featuring oxtail soup and roasted pork loin with chorizo and maple tequila glaze.  The Master Chef certification test has no written component – it is simply a measure of the mastery of cooking skills and knowledge. For the Rotary Club luncheon, Chef Percy perused the stores of The Ahwahnee’s kitchen and created the menus that impressed club members with their spontaneity and inventiveness. We wish Chef Percy the best of luck with his CMC test in 2014, but we have a feeling he will pass with flying colors.

Serving the Rotary Club luncheon at The Ahwahnee. Photo by Teri Marshall.

Pastry Chef Paul Padua assists in serving the Rotary Club luncheon at The Ahwahnee. Photo by Teri Marshall.

Chef Percy Whatley and Rotary Club member Teri Marshall.

Chef Percy Whatley and Rotary Club member Teri Marshall.

Seasons in Yosemite: Wawona in the Fall

Fall can be a quiet and cozy time of year filled with brightly colored leaves, outdoor fun in the crisp air, hearty meals and perhaps a wildlife sighting or two as animals prepare for winter. You can do all of these things and more in Yosemite National Park during this gentle season, and there is no better place to experience fall than the historic Wawona Hotel.

Historic hops vines trail over Wawona’s verandas and turn yellow in the early fall. Photo by Christy Dudley.

You’ll find fall color in a variety of ways at Wawona. From the hops vines that trail over the verandas of the hotel to the dogwood trees that line the west end of the Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary golf course to the black oaks along the Meadow Loop Trail, fall is found in a range of shades. The Meadow Loop Trail also offers the chance to view Wawona’s wildlife: mule deer with proud antler racks and squirrels caching acorns for the winter. You may even be lucky enough to spot the great gray owl that calls Wawona home. The nature of the Meadow Loop complements the culture in this historic area of Yosemite, as you can spot acorn grinding holes in the granite outcroppings along the loop left by Native Americans. At the Pioneer Yosemite History Center, you can experience different periods in Yosemite’s history all in one place: a collection of historic buildings from all over the park relocated here in the 1950s and 1960s. You’ll see a blacksmith shop, calvary office, resident cabins, the Wells Fargo office and one of the only covered bridges located inside a national park.

During this time of year, the emphasis may be on the show created by trees and shrubs shedding colorful leaves, but don’t forget that the greatest trees of all reside in Yosemite: the Giant Sequoias. Though the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is a short drive from the Wawona Hotel, it is closed for restoration until spring 2017. Yosemite has two other giant sequoia groves located near the Crane Flat area of the park: Merced Grove and Tuolumne Grove. Both groves require a moderate 2 mile round-trip hike to view the big trees. An afternoon hike in the grove can help you work up an appetite for hearty meals served in Wawona’s old-fashioned setting.

Dogwood trees in the fall. Photo by Kenny Karst.

Dogwood trees in the fall. Photo by Kenny Karst.

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Thanksgiving at Wawona is celebrated with a special dinner in the Victorian-era hotel’s dining room. The Thanksgiving dinner menu includes classics like roasted turkey, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. In addition to the classics, Chef Dwayne McFann will also treat you to delicious fall treats such as wild salmon roulade, corn polenta cake, spiced apple & brown sugar roasted pork loin and butternut squash spinach lasagna paired with California wines. Activities and events through the season include the Fall Gathering in Wawona hosted for donors to the Yosemite Conservancy, stagecoach rides at the Pioneer Yosemite History Center, and nature walks with a park ranger in Mariposa Grove. To experience vintage music of Yosemite, join singer Tom Bopp at the piano in the lobby of the Wawona Hotel from 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm Tuesday through Saturday. Day or night, you’ll find a fall filled with plenty in Wawona to make your visit to Yosemite one to remember.

Stagecoach rides at Pioneer Yosemite History Center. Photo by

Stagecoach rides at Pioneer Yosemite History Center. Photo by Nancy Robbins.

Photo by Kenny Karst

Photo by Kenny Karst