The following information is provided as a supplement to the article “The Stomach and the Soul: Incorporating Food and Drink in the Spa” by Cathy Christensen running in the January 2008 issue of Skin Inc. magazine. To learn more about the incorporation of food and drink in the spa, please see the current issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
Chad Luephje, executive chef, Red Mountain Spa, St. George, UT
James Boyce, executive chef, Montage Resort & Spa, Laguna Beach, CA
Jim Root, general manager spa operations, The Spa at Sea Island, Sea Island, GA/ISPA chairman
Julie Raistrick, spa director, Montage Resort & Spa, Laguna Beach, CA
Maureen Schumaker, spa director, Le Spa, Sofitel LA, Los Angeles
Myrna Beardshear, spa director, Red Mountain Spa, St. George, UT
Tassia Waldhart, lead esthetician at Sundara Inn & Spa, Wisconsin Dells, WI
Christine Denney, wellness chef, The Oaks at Ojai, Ojai, CA
Our philosophy is pretty simple: We want to have food that is healthful and as enjoyable as it can be. That leaves a lot more room than most people think when they think about food that is good for you. My background is mainstream destination resorts and hotels, making it taste good and look good … you don’t think about the health ramifications.
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The healthfulness takes precedence here. We eliminate good, tasty, unhealthy things, like bacon and foie gras. People should enjoy our food and really be thinking about how great it tastes and that it is healthy, too. We get the most vibrant flavors and textures and colors while staying within our guidelines and putting a healthful twist on our foods. They see things that they recognize and are familiar with. In order to that, we incorporate whole grains, low-fat protein sources, fresh herbs, citrus and different vinegars to help brighten up.
Advice: Every place is different, depending on what their facility can handle. The first thing they would want to do is check and see if there are any destination-type resorts around. Red Mountain is a resort and then a spa; people check in and stay for several days as people would at a typical hotel, and there are wonderful spa and exercise facilities. The first thing I would do is see if there is a property like that in the area and get together with the chef and nutritionist, get some guidelines, use the Internet for healthy guiding principles. Use a wide variety of colors, as your picking out fruits and whole grains, and figure out ways to sweeten things without using processed sugars.
Again, if it is a day spa that has no food and beverage, they should partner with someone who can provide them with a prepackaged health drinks and smoothies, but you have to do research because when you look at things that are marketed as healthy, they may have extra sugar or sodium.
Our spa is a grand style so we have servers from our pool café that would come into the relaxation area of the spa. We have a whole specific menu we offer at our pool café called Mosaic, and we have a healthier, lighter cuisine: salads, wraps, pitas, vegetarian options made for the spa. It’s available the whole time the spa’s open: breakfast, lunch and dinner. We have everyone trained on how to service the spa. If someone is working out in the fitness facility and wants a smoothie, they can get one. The smoothies change with the seasons. A full alcoholic list is also available, because sometimes it’s a celebration. Most hotel spas or luxury resorts are kind of disconnected because they are often outsourced to come in and operate the spa. Everyone that is hired for Mosaic is trained in spa operations. If it is a women that orders, it is a women that serves. We pay attention to every need. They are treated as if they are dining in a restaurant. They want to have lunch, they can have lunch. It’s kind of a taboo thing. You go to the spa and you don’t eat. We offer a full menu that is conditioned toward spa.
We’re a luxury resort with a great spa. We’re not a Canyon Ranch or Golden Door; you’re coming to the hotel to experience a lot of things: if you want to go that way, you can; if not, you don’t have to. We make sure that our guests are completely satisfied if it’s their decision to indulge. We’re not the check in and get 400 calories type of facility. I believe in moderation, but we do offer some great alternatives.
The menu changes quarterly: it’s chef driven and consumer driven.
Advice: It has to be driven through room service operation if at all possible. You have to find the nearest outlet to your source to train your service and kitchen. It’s amazing how much we go through extensive training and all of the staff members. Another idea could be to outsource it—bring in a small caterer that could drop off some healthy choices: cold food, stuff that’s easily reheated.
Food and nutrition works as an educational tool if done right. While you’re relaxing or you wanted a light snack before your spa experience. It could show people the trends and the habitual side of eating.
I have a little different perspective. I am not a big believer in the typical juice bar because I have seen more of them that are abandoned and don’t look anywhere close to what the intention was. Incorporating the concept of food and nourishment within the total picture doesn’t have to be delivered within the spa, but within the resort experience. Even if I was to look at a day spa or a smaller spa, I think you are combining too many things; there should be ways to control.
I always talk about the simple truths of spa versus the idea there’s always got to be something new and different. The importance of food and nutrition in the experience. When you go home, this is what you can do. Water is the best thing out there whether you put in citrus or mint and cucumber. You could do a healthy trail mix or fresh fruit, and have that be very appropriate versus getting into salads and wraps. A lot of nutritionists will frown on juices and juice bars as a source of complete nutrition.
Alcohol is one of those things that is a fine line because. If you are trying to be authentic and purposeful, you would never serve alcohol in the environment and then there is the pampering aspect.
I think that is the overly creative part. At the end of the end of any treatment, there’s nothing like water. Maybe if you dress that up in your presentation, that would be fun. The simpler, the more authentic way.
Wellness cuisine at Sea Island is incorporated because of wellness chef Laurie Erickson. This Friday is 49 weeks that the spa has been open. In the last month, the final piece is the opening of the lifestyle kitchen in the spa. We do classes and presentations. We don’t serve food from there. Chef Laurie has wellness items on the menus throughout the different venues at Sea Island and you can go through all the venues and have the same dining experience that is better for your health. It’s not a less menu but is similar menu, and is a full-on dining experience, which can also include wine.
The spa is a central piece within the entire resort.
Lifestyle Kitchen … because I’ve always worked in the destination spas, the easy part of a destination spa experience is to actually be there. The trick is to take it home with you. The Lifestyle Kitchen allows people to take the learning and education home with them. We have a wheel of wellbeing, the aspects of a balanced life. Specifically it’s how you do these things while you are here and how you incorporate these things in how you get back to nutrition.
In every case, it’s what really fits within your program and what you are trying to accomplish. There’s a spa experience for every body. You can get it in the mall with a chair massage or at a destination spa; no one way is the right way.
When I first got here, the building was 1/3 finished. The space where the lifestyle kitchen is was going to be a back of the house plating system and we changed it to be the lifestyle kitchen. Two years ago, this was a fundamental switch in what we did because it was so important that our wellness chef and our nutritionist had a dedicated home. When you come into the kitchen, there is a center island with range, bookshelves and two counters with kitchen equipment pieces that you could find in any home. Chef Laurie does classes in preparation and knife skills.
Intentions into Actions program. I’m going to lose weight, learn this, do that. Let us take your intentions and help be your guide and coach and put actions to them. We started it two years ago at the start of the year and it grew into intentions into action for the bride and groom. How to cook for two. How to use your gifts. We’re going to have a baby: making your own baby food is the simplest thing in the world, we show you how to do it. Laurie works with families. You can’t just do it because it is healthy, but it has to be fun. She will go to people’s homes and she takes people shopping. Laurie is on the aisle lingo … she gets parents and kids involved in an interactive way. She does her presentations and she does a personal chef program to improve kitchen skills and kitchen awareness. We have these for our resort guest and for our members.
Wherever your spa is, you can do something inspired like this. I have so much respect for people who run day spas. You could do a once a month in the kitchen with chef with a local restaurant program versus having food on an ongoing basis. You could partner with a health food store or restaurant to do home delivery of the food after your spa treatment. Something destination spas, do but more appropriate to the location.
The nutritional component of a well balanced body is important and the spa industry needs to address that in some fashion. Each of us do it differently with our own flair—that is a component that we don’t want to miss out on, just like fitness. Through one of our signature programs, we determine our guests’ body type through a variety of different measurements whether they are an endomorph, ectomorph or mesomorph. If you are an endomorph, the chemicals, nutrition, minerals you might be lacking could be hydrogen or nitrogen, you may need to take in more vegetables and fruits because of that. We came up with a body-type smoothie that encourages them to maintain nutritional balance. We can provide this smoothie to address minerals you might be lacking to help bring your body back into balance.
Clients love it. When you have a specific body type, your body will gravitate to smells and tastes. Mesomorphs might love their smoothie and not be excited about what was in the other types’ smoothies. We give them info about different food types to bring them back into balance.
We always include this our signature program—the Surrender program, which is our unique approach to customization. We’ve decided that guests don’t really understand which facial is best for them, so we have asked our guests to surrender to us. Allow us to make your choices for you so that we can help bring you back into balance whether body treatments, skin therapies, physical services—fitness, and within that process, we are able to customize a personal experience to our guests. It may be that every time they come to see us, their experience may be completely different. With that program we do from 2 hours to several days and weeks. We had two guests with us for 2-1/2 months surrendering to us. That’s when we incorporate our smoothies the most because we determine their body type already. We also do it with a variety of other services.
Our contract footbath treatment is enhanced with all natural tossanas from Italy that is focused on equilibrium, cellulite reduction and detox, while we’re doing this, a compact of hot and cold is to increase circulation, and we have the guests sipping this tea depending on the outcome that they are looking for. It really gets the circulation going so they can get the full benefits.
We have a specific spa menu along with what the chef is offering in his restaurant, we have a spa menu within our spa lounges and on the spa pool deck that is signature to our guests. It’s an extension of the spa. Our spa menu includes healthy, unique items that are refreshing for a spa experience. More along the lines of lobster salad, smoothies—that’s how we incorporate that. With our spa’s environment, we are lucky enough to be able to provide a full-day experience for our guests. You can end the day with a personal training session. We encourage everyone to come and spend the day with us.
Food and drink is a must to incorporate nutrition into the spa experience. It’s the whole experience that will bring the body into complete balance. We can customize menus, as well.
I’m excited to hear that smaller spas are looking for this. Start small with something that is realistic. Maybe it’s an organic loose-leaf tea program for benefits. Make connections with a registered dietician you can bring on board on a consultant basis. You could start by maybe providing just nutritional guidance, and start there. To see where is the need, what are our guests looking for, how do we continue grow.
We do provide food as a celebration, and that can be anything fron chocolate covered strawberries to appetizers. We have a lot of groups that visit the spa and it’s a great opportunity to make the spa area a personalized lounge creating a homey, comfortable environment.
On a daily basis, we have fruit and nuts available. Spa can be stimulating to the body and we want to make sure that they have nutritional food to put into their body to refuel.
We have personal training and we are a full wellness center. We haven’t gone to the level of adding nutrition into that mix. For the restaurant, we do have healthy items featured in the Simon LA restaurant menu. We have a wonderful grilled halibut with steamed vegetables.
There is cross marketing. We don’t prepare in the spa, but we bring it over from Simon LA and we can cross-promote that way. The restaurant has wonderful junk food, but a large number of healthy items as well.
The chef, Kerry Simon, is a big fan of our and we’re a big fan of his. He’s very interested in providing healthy items on his menu.
With every service, we serve tea—an extensive menu. The flavor of the tea is designed to coordinate with the treatment that you are about to receive. With the seasonal treatments, we have a grapeseed and wine scrub and we serve a hot cinnamon spice tea. It ties in everything and it a wholly sensorial experience.
We would love to add nutrition. Simon does a great protein shake in the mornings and we would love to offer those in the spa and the fitness center. It would round out the wellness experience.
Advice: Find a local restaurant or café that shares a similar philosophy to partner with. In other locations I’ve worked at, we’ve worked out a menu and run a delivery and pickup. That’s been very successful for me at smaller locations. It’s a benefit to both locations, you get cross-marketing and cross-promoting, and the ability to enhance the guest experience, as well.
Our Cocoa Latte Wrap, we use cocoa and dehydrated milk in that. We have a mixture of the cocoa and the milk together with warm water into a thick cocoa liquid. We prepare the body with a scrub and we use a mocha body scrub made by Lather. The coffee is very detoxifying and stimulating and does a good job of exfoliation. After we’ve exfoliated, we rinse them with a Vichy shower and we pour the cocoa milk slowly over the body. It’s a decadent, wonderful feeling—along the spine and over each leg and their arms. We wrap the body and then do a scalp massage. We apply a Belgian chocolate body whip. It’s so wonderful. You come out of the treatment smelling more chocolate than anything else. Cocoa is a natural antioxidant and its rich in B vitamins, and the caffeine is detoxifying and stimulating.
We are a destination resort, so our guests eat all of the cuisine. All meals are included and so the food is what they eat. Rarely do we have guests that leave the property at all to eat. The spa is part of the resort and we are all very much a part of each.
We have a very strong health department here and we do have programs on weight loss and detoxification and on treating diabetics. There is a strong philosophy on the property involving nutrition and food. Do the body no harm. We focus all of our meals are very very healthy while being excellent.
We have fresh fruit and dried fruit. We are a separate building, so we don’t have the facilities to have more than that. The day guests eat at the restaurant. If they wish, we have food delivered. We have a selection of teas and cucumber water.
INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT: Tassia Waldhart, lead esthetician at Sundara Inn & Spa, Wisconsin Dells, WI
In our organic series treatments, we use an organic skin care line made of fresh fruits and plants in our skin care lines for both facial and body treatments. Right now, we are using pumpkin and fall harvest products for body treatments. For Christmas, we are incorporating blueberries, pomegranates and cranberries.
Our chakra series is more of the ancient principles and age old philosophies of healing. They serve tea and chyawanprash jam on a cracker after ayurveedic services that are rich in vitamin C and full of antioxidants and stimulates metabolism.
We serve organic tea after services. We keep tea and water in the relaxation lounge, as well as a large supply of fresh fruit.
Our mission statement is based on healing and wellness, so we do like to try and educate guests on the importance of healing and wellness and food and drink is incorporated. We discuss the importance of spa cuisine and healthy eating and juice and water and herbal teas to flush out and keep your body healthy.
If we have pumpkin services, we may have a pumpkin soup in the spa. They do the same thing for Christmas and try incorporate some fruit and vegetables of that season.
In the summer months, we have a rotunda bar Infinity Edge bar that serve food and beverage. In the relaxation lounge, we have our spa menu featuring spa services and seasonal services and signage. If clients are staying in a suite or villa or they can reserve a seat in the rotunda. It is important to tie in seasonal promotions with seasonal services and tie in a seasonal food and beverage with it.
As you may know, Elenor Brown is the one who developed the menu here. I’ve taken over managing the kitchen and putting together the menu, but am still using her ideas. The Oaks is one of the few spas that has a specific caloric intake setup for people. Throughout the day, planned around the fact that no one’s glycemic level gets too low, we offer breakfast, whole grain muffins, fruit, eggs, yogurt and cottage cheese between 7:45 and 9:15—200 calories and whatever you add onto it. At 10:45, we have a broth break, a blend of steamed veggies and potatoes for potassium, we don’t add any salt or white sugar. We add broth powder and salsa—25 calories, an add in for the day. Between 12-1 pm in the dining room, 350 calories—a soup served. There’s been a lot of press that soup helps people to eat fewer calories and takes away your initial hunger. We do an entrée salad—chicken ceasar—or sometimes a hot meal—pita pizza or teriyaki turkey burger—and we serve a dessert that are gauged to be about 50 calories each.
2:45 a smoothie break—fruit and apple juice concentrate.
The point is to not to go too long between meals.
About 45 minutes before dinner, raw veggies with dips
Dinner is 350 calories, a dinner salad, and an entrée, seafood, poultry or vegetarian. The Oaks isn’t a restaurant … it is a set menu. All dinners are geared to be 350 calories and a dessert based on fruit.
Between 8 and 8:30 we put out bags of unsalted popcorn and a fresh fruit bowl in the public area. If they want extra food, it is available. We maintain the food schedule.
It’s the whole experience, when you pay for a room, it includes meals and the classes. Everything is integrated in that way. As far as drinks go, we have a public area that always has water, fruit, tea, iced tea, hot water, coffee and decaffeinated coffee.
Advice: It takes a lot of planning. We have part time nurses that work in the morning and guests with dietary needs. You need to have someone on staff who knows what it means to be glucose intolerant or have allergies. Dairy intolerance is becoming kind of a big thing. We are starting to look at those options for people. You have to be organized and have everyone in place who can fit the needs of those people coming in. The Oaks has been here for so long, there are people who resist some of it. They have stayed the course, because it works. Depending on their level of fitness, people can succeed. It seems to work for just about everyone. We try to provide some backup—nutrition talks, food demonstrations two nights a week that they can take home with them and be successful overall. Part of it is trying to build new habits and we have people with individual counseling that may give them a chance of succeeding on their own. Early morning strolls, dance, yoga, there’s something for everyone.