Every chef is concerned about things going wrong in their restaurants -- after all, they can't always control every detail. But executive chef Giovanni Arias has to be extra vigilant in his kitchen at Canyon Ranch Hotel & Spa Miami Beach because he regularly serves diners who have food allergies. "We can kill somebody if we're not aware of it," he says.
If you have never had the pleasure of visiting or staying at any of the three Canyon Ranch resorts around the nation, you might not understand the concept. So let's just sum it up this way: Canyon Ranch is like a vacation, a medical workup, and a life lesson all wrapped up in a few acres. Guests can partake in dozens of exercise classes every day and meet with any number of medical specialists, but they also get to lounge at the pool, spoil themselves in the spa, and dine on creative, healthful cuisine.
Though the Canyon Ranch Grill in Miami Beach is open to the public, it is typically enjoyed by those vacationing or living onsite. Sometimes visitors are pictures of health, and they want to experience a holiday trying new forms of fitness and bonding with like-minded people. Other times guests arrive in fragile physical states, suffering from maladies including obesity, cancer, or diabetes, for example. Chef Arias has to always be ready to provide gluten-free, low sodium, low-fat, vegetarian, vegan, and dairy-free meals every day, all day.
As one can imagine, the job of a Canyon Ranch chef is especially challenging.. Here's what he has to say about the gig:
New Times: How would you describe the cuisine at Canyon Ranch Grill?
Giovanni Arias: We're a fusion, just like Miami. A fusion of flavors, of greatness, fresh ingredients and products.
But you also have to label each item on the menu with nutritional information. What are the biggest issues you have to face when creating new menu items?
The first things we have to consider is the fat. The fat, the calories, and the carbs.
How often would you say you get special requests?
Every single day.
And how do you prep for diners with restrictions?
Usually people go through the nutritionist first when they have special dietary needs. Then they'll choose a menu and we'll execute it. The system is called PDN, for personal dietary needs. Every morning we print out the report for the whole day.
How do you know when you are feeding one of those folks?
As soon as they register with the host, she'll print out their names and a whole file comes up. As soon as the host gets a ticket, she passes it on to the chef on duty and, of course, the server knows right away.
How often do you change the menu?
Pretty much quarterly.
I hear that you have to submit every recipe to the corporate office before serving it to guests. Is that true?
We work closely with corporate. I get the recipe, write it down, I execute it and make sure it's accurate, be sure not use excessive butter, extract each flavor out of each food--maximize it--I go into detail each step. Then I send it to corporate, and they get it back to me within a week or two weeks.
And how do you know how many calories, fat grams, etcetera each dish contains?
We have a program at corporate where they input the recipe.
How many of your recipe submissions are altered?
From 10, I would say maybe 3. That's not too bad.
What's your professional background?
In my family the person who does all the cooking in my house is my father. He was the master in the kitchen... so I learned from that. I started when I was 12 as a dishwasher in Puerto Rico. I came to Miami at 17 looking for different opportunities. That's when I went to Johnson & Wales in Miami. I got a bachelor in culinary arts. This was '98. I worked for great chefs, like Allen Susser, Robin Haas. I used to be the chef at Chispa in Coral Gables.
Where were you cooking right before Canyon Ranch?
Turnberry. I used to work in banquets.
I can imagine that would be a challenging gig, too. Lots of folks are kosher, right?
It's kosher and a lot of its members are older and very demanding.
How is your menu different from ones in the past?
I started to change the menu slowly. I wanted to make it more Miami, that Floribbean tropical cuisine. I'm from Puerto Rico so I had to get my input. I had to get fresh fruits, work with the local community, like Paradise Farms. I buy from them and make great items with great products sourced from here in Miami.
Your heirloom tomatoes are kickass.
We get them from Paradise Farms. But I have a backup just in case.
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SHOW ME HOW
They're very hard to find.
Yes. For heirlooms you pretty much have to use 50-year-old seed.
Monday we'll find out what time he had to feed Paul McCartney, what Arias did with green bamboo rice, and what dish he'd request for his last meal on Earth.