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A New Culinary Consciousness

by Liz Vaccariello

Photo above: Wildflower Farms' restaurant

Embark on a culinary journey that nurtures your body and soul at resorts that meld a wellness focus with culinary excellence for the ultimate in luxury travel.

In the realm of wellness travel, where the pursuit of physical and mental rejuvenation intersects with the quest for exquisite gastronomic experiences, a remarkable transformation has been brewing. Travelers are no longer content with a menu of spa treatments and some curated downtime. They are more and more interested in embarking on a culinary journey that nurtures their body and soul.

That can mean everything from choosing hotels and resorts with plant-forward menus to booking their stays to align with esteemed and interesting culinary collaborations or immersive food experiences. Aptly named “high-culinary consciousness,” this burgeoning trend is redefining the very essence of wellness tourism.

High-culinary consciousness isn’t merely about what you eat; it’s about how you eat, why you eat, and the journey food takes from soil to plate. It’s a philosophy that celebrates the interconnectedness of nature, nutrition, and our wellbeing. Each bite should be a conscious celebration, an appreciation of the ingredients, and an acknowledgment of their impact on our health.

Of course, years ago the biggest players in the destination resort space—brands, such as Aman, Anantara, Miraval, and Six Senses—embarked on a culinary revolution that goes far beyond traditional resort dining. At Sensei Porcupine Creek and Sensei Lanai, the renowned Nobu brand is an integral part of the wellness stays. Menus are thoughtfully integrated into the entire guest experience, consistently offering exquisite culinary delights at every meal. Some of the best destination spas in the United States—Shou Sugi Ban House, The Lodge at Woodloch and Wildflower Farms in New York; Rancho Valencia in California; and Miraval in Arizona—are known as much for their culinary programs as for their spa treatments and wellness activities.

This evolution marks the starkest departure yet from the days long ago when travelers seeking wellness were limited to bland, healthified resort food. Today’s luxury destinations recognize that discerning guests expect more.

Hunter Lewis, editor in chief of Food & Wine, sees a remarkable momentum. “One of the most interesting intersections of wellness travel and dining can be found in remarkable hotel and hospitality ventures,” he says.

Left: Lancha seared octopus, cured olives, sweet potato, brussels sprouts, fermented chili and lemon at Blackberry Mountain. Right: Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa's Chef Joshua in the garden.

He cites premier examples like Blackberry Mountain in Tennessee, Heckfield Place in the UK, Calistoga Ranch in Napa Valley, Kamalame Cay in the Bahamas, and the Chablé resort in the Yucatan (where there’s a resident shaman and the food is overseen by Chef Jorge Vallejo of Quintonil fame) as properties that flawlessly marry wellness with high-end dining.

At Blackberry Mountain, guests can indulge in a range of wellness activities, from yoga to forest bathing, before enjoying a beautifully executed meal at the flagship restaurant, Three Sisters. Heckfield Place in the UK combines a farm-to-table dining experience with enriching talks and workshops. “Culinary Director Skyge Gyngell oversees an incredible dining program informed by 438 acres of biodynamic farm,” Lewis says. “And when you’re full, you can feed your mind with Heckfield’s Soho House–style series of talks and workshops, touching on everything from the value of happiness to essential oils.”

“I definitely think this is a trend and has been for some time,” says Betty Gold, senior food director at the wellness site WellandGood.com. Gold believes this trend is more than a passing fad. “I think it’ll continue to grow in popularity over the next several years. Wellness-minded travelers are becoming more savvy and discerning about both nutrition and the culinary arts, meaning many of the very basic options of the past are no longer cutting it—and luxury destinations are really responding to that. The events tend to attract the type of traveler who shudders at the idea of having to eat chicken-caesar-salads-dressing- on-the-side daily in culinary meccas like Mexico, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, etc.—which I think is a really positive shift.”

“Wellness-minded travelers are becoming more savvy and discerning about both nutrition and the culinary arts, meaning many of the very basic options of the past are no longer cutting it—and luxury destinations are really responding to that.”

– Betty Gold, senior food director at the wellness site WellandGood.com

As the demand for immersive food experiences grows, hotel guests can now book exceptional gastronomic journeys alongside their wellness-focused itineraries. In many cases, resorts have enlisted the talents of Michelin- starred and James Beard Award-winning chefs, either as permanent staff members or for exclusive guest residencies. One example: The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort (with its famed Iridium Spa) held its first culinary week in August 2023. Michelin Star Chef Boris Campanella and leading Sommelier Xavier Thuizat joined forces with St. Regis’ Chef Nicolas Nguyen for an unforgettable “Upside Down Menu” dining concept that included the signature St. Regis Champagne sabering, wine tastings and cooking classes, customized menus and a selection of personally curated fine wines. They called it Paris-Meets-French Polynesia Culinary Experience Week.

Gold shares her firsthand experiences with these immersive culinary journeys, including dining with renowned chefs Nancy Silverton and Nancy Oakes during their residency at Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal. “They used seafood from the ocean that we were looking at, and shared the meaning of each dish as they came out one by one,” Gold recalls. Such experiences exemplify the desire for authenticity and storytelling in cuisine.

Food & Wine’s Lewis adds that even air and sea travel are evolving to meet the demands of wellness-conscious consumers. “Aer Lingus now offers melatonin-rich dining options in business class,” he says. “While premium cruise line Oceania has introduced Aquamar, a health focused restaurant featuring plant-based options and low-alcohol and non-alcoholic wines.”

The convergence of wellness and culinary excellence promises to redefine the very essence of luxury travel for years to come. But in the end, high-culinary consciousness is about more than just tasting good food. It’s about engaging all the senses, fostering a deeper connection with the ingredients, and appreciating the beauty of the culinary journey.

As Well+Good’s Gold emphasizes, “Particularly post- covid, I think people are really leaning into experiential travel. They want to relax and recharge on vacation, but they also want to learn something and make it memorable. Offering new culinary experiences that champion local ingredients (and giving guests a more diverse range of dining options) is a really beautiful way to do that.”

In line with many post-pandemic societal trends, people are no longer satisfied with mindless consumption. They want to savor every moment, every breath. They also want to savor every bite. 

Clockwise from top: Sommelier Xavier Thuizat, Michelin-Star Chef Boris Campanella, St. Regis Chef Nguyen

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