The Waldorf Astoria Boca Raton is a part of history. It was an important link in winter luxury train travel for the affluent in the north east wanting to winter under the warm Florida sun. Go back in time riding in a luxurious private stateroom heading south on Henry Flagler’s railroad in the late 1920’s and 1930’s, leaving snow behind and the beckoning orange blossoms have you in anticipation of your upcoming winter activities.
The Boca Raton Resort & Club, which opened February 6, 1926 as the Ritz-Carlton Cloister Inn, is a large resort and membership-based club and one of the crown jewels for the elite on Florida’s east coast. The luxury resorts included The Breakers in Palm Beach, Ritz-Carlton Cloister Inn, The Biltmore in Coral Gables and the Casa Marina (The Flagler Hotel) in Key West. Ladies and Gentlemen of the era enjoyed the best of the best at these resorts as the traveled the Flagler Railroad to Key West and some on to Cuba.
Arriving at The Waldorf Astoria Boca Raton took us back in time with unbridled luxury and service. This grand lady was originally designed by California-born architect, Addison Mizner in 1926. The Boca Raton Club Tower in was built 1969, the building is still considerably taller than any other building in southern Palm Beach County. The resort has recently undergone a $150 million renovation, while the cloister and tower rooms were redesigned in 2006.
The resort is located just a few steps from the stunning south Florida coastline and their private beach. Our wall to ceiling windows provided a romantic view of the Atlantic Ocean, Intercoastal Waterway and the marina which is the home of yachts well over 100 feet long.
Guests can dine at Dine at one of our 11 award-wining restaurants or unwind with the ultimate spa experience at the hotel’s Waldorf Astoria Spa. Voted as the number one spa in the country by Condé Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards. We were here on a culinary mission, The Taste of Waldorf that had us deep sea fishing and purveying ingredients with Resort Executive Chef Andrew Roenbeck and James Beard rising star Chef Sara Hauman from San Francisco. The ultimate goal is to create some very special dishes paired with a cocktail and a mocktail to be presented in competition with other Waldorf Chefs at the Waldorf Astoria in New York.
In a world inundated by food TV contests and cooking competitions, an interesting twist on traditional rivalry is always a refreshing deviation into the creative culinary world. The Waldorf Astoria has partnered with the James Beard Foundation (JBF) for a third year to find the next Taste of Waldorf Astoria champion. Five JBF Rising Star semi-finalists have been individually partnered with one of Waldorf Astoria’s Master Chefs for a multi-day collaboration to conceive the next culinary masterpiece. After the pairings have been created, the program culminates with a May 2017 competition at the Waldorf Astoria in New York featuring a star-studded panel of judges who will determine the winning combination.
The Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts have given the world classic dishes such as Eggs Benedict, Waldorf Salad and the Red Velvet Cake and now there is a worldwide search for yet another dish to hallmark this iconic brand. Just before the holidays we joined two accomplished Chefs’, one a twenty plus year veteran executive Chef of the Waldorf Astoria, Andrew Roenbeck and his counterpart a young James Beard rising star, Chef Sara Hauman of San Francisco.As Taste of Waldorf contestants, they must collaborate together executing a dish that could withstand the decade’s recipe revelations, and unusual ingredients;a culinary challenge that propelled these chefs together without any prior communication as they were tasked to prepare the a dish that will be not only featured in every Waldorf Astoria throughout the world but in the greater connection, an iconic dish is optimally going to withstand the test of time.
This year’s contest: transform the happy hour into the “Fifth Hour” by expanding bar offerings beyond traditional drinks and appetizers. Roenbeck and Hauman were challenged to create two small bites that must pair perfectly with an original cocktail and mock tail. Working among themselves and the skilled Boca Raton hospitality staff, they carefully took several days in creating a truly memorable dining experience encompassing every detail from the overall presentation from plate to palate. We came along to catalog and chronicle the week long journey of these two vastly different chefs as they journeyed through their purpose, finding the best purveyors while developing their creative process into a winning plate of perfection.
The process of coming up with stellar recipe, especially one that is in competition to be in the food history books, was an educational and often adventurous journey as we traveled with the two Chefs on a week-long stint in south Florida. With several of us coming together from different parts of the country and various time zones, we were all a bit jet-lagged but ready to be educated on the flora and fauna of the surrounding area. We met with some of the best local purveyors in search for the superior ingredients needed in producing the winning menu items. Our first culinary assignment; meet at the Waldorf Astoria boat dock for a fishing trip. Living in the desert does not include fishing expeditions, so this looked like an intriguing adventure. The seas looked a bit choppy but knowing we were going to be with experienced fishermen, we put aside our doubts and bravely stepped into the small fishing vessel. Docked aside multi-million dollar yachts, this fishing craft looked diminutive and a bit fragile for the stormy weather that seemed to be brewing on the horizon. Our angst was starting to show, but we put on our seafaring faces and ventured into the channel as our jovial sea mates reassured us of their skill and knowledge was all that were truly needed when the seas looked angry.
That seeming reassurance faded very quickly as large white caps loomed on the horizon. While the captain jokingly hummed the theme song to the 70’s TV show Gilligan’s island-(and we know what happened to that crew!) under his breath, we were thinking will our fate to be any different? His carefree attitude did not pierce our cloud of in trepidation as we heaved and pitched through from the inner coastal water way and into the Atlantic Ocean. We bounced through the thorough fare like a rubber duck in an agitated child’s bath, all the while praying to the sea gods’ for mercy. Once we cleared the channel our fate looked dubious as storm clouds and rough waters seemingly increased by the minute. Meanwhile hope glimmered briefly when the front fishing pole nearly bent in half sending the sea mates into action; one grabbing the bowing pole and the other brandishing a menacing looking gaffing hook.The two worked in frantic unison bringing aboard the loveliest Mahi Mahi fish amidst bouts of bloody surrender, jostling and rejoicing.As the ill fated sea creature flipped and flopped, our bodies undulated in the same frantic motion, as if to give some sort of sympathy dance as it was sacrificed for the cause. As our mission was now accomplished, we urgently implored the captain to turn the boat back to dry land, of which he obliged to our collective breath of relief. As we bounced back into the harbor we were relieved to have the first locally sourced protein in the Chefs quest for the best ingredients albeit almost to our own demise.
The next day after a lovely breakfast we were on our way to meet a beekeeper and then off to a few the organic farmers and a stop at a winery.
It’s not every day that one is offered the use of a very expensive Maserati (the official town car of the Boca Resorts) as means of transport to a bee farm. Was it the warnings we were told beforehand that made us just a tad apprehensive? Such as, do not wear black, (what about the shining black Maserati that we were driving up in? Would that be the object of bee wrath), and make sure you cover your tootsies; bees love to get at your toes. Chef Andy reassured us that the bees were harmless as long as you adhere to the rules of the beekeeper. We soon were well versed on bee etiquette, as we entered into the buzzy world of Roxanne L. Altrui, passionate beekeeper. We gingerly opened the car door to the bee filled atmosphere; the distinctive buzzing sound and busy creatures were now surrounding us and we were anxious to approach their territory respectfully and safely. Roxanne, a tall robust woman adorned with a full bee suit, quickly gave us each our own suit and we made haste in getting our protective gear on as the bees were becoming increasingly interested in our presence. We felt snug and a much more relaxed in our protective garment, although a bit warm on this humid Florida day. Roxanne took us through an extensive overview of her bee world, with live demonstrations showing us the work of the queen bee to the birth of a new bee. Every facet of her work was fascinating and often enlightening. “See, there are millions of bees around us, and are they attacking us? No,” she said, “they are only doing their job”.And their job is making the incredible golden local honey that we came to gather on this day.
Bee populations in the area and in general are diminishing as unneeded spraying continues to kill off large number of these much-needed creatures. Roxanne claims to be the spokesperson for the bees and actually calls them her “girls “since there are no males. “We need bees to pollinate our food and they need us to help them thrive and dispel the fears that many people hold to be true often based in fear and ignorance”, she added. Today we truly learned the beauty and complexity of the bee world and both Chefs procured the golden elixir for another ingredient in their menu quest. It was time to get back into our Maserati for the next part of our exploration.
Driving down dusty, palm tree lined roads with large open canals we lost our GPS signal. We knew we were truly lost out here in the brush of south Florida when we unknowingly happened upon the entrance to a nudist camp. Quickly turning around, our navigation system finally alerted us to farm known as Swank Specialty Produce operated by a husband and wife team, Darren and Jody Swank.
The couple is considered to be pioneers in the family farming business beginning in 2002. Hydroponic, natural farming was virtually non-existence and through a great deal of sweat, tears and extremely hard work the farm continues to offer the highest quality and best tasting produce in Florida. The Boca Resort was one of the first accounts for the Swank Farm. “Our products speak for themselves,” said, D. Swank, “We were one of the first small family farms that started the local movement.” Walking along the rows of brilliantly colored organic vegetables, we tasted fresh tomatoes, beans and other succulent organic produce. Both Chef Sara and Chef Andy seemed to bond over what produce that would be using in their next dish creation, and this place indeed seemed like a Garden of Eden, a perfect place to find the best ingredients. After waking the farm is was time to visit a local winery and see what they had to offer up to please our palates.
David Bick, 42, and Teal Pfeifer, 33, are owners of the Palm Beach County’s only winery; it includes a retail space and tasting room. As we entered the tiny tasting room we were looking forward in trying their wine made from dried hibiscus sabdariffa, also known as roselle, Jamaican sorrel, sour-sour and Florida cranberry. “This is one of the only organic ways to preserve a high quality product by making wine”, claimed Bick. Bick and Pfeifer strive to maintain the organic purity of their product, and it comes out in the refreshing taste of this lovely coral color beverage that exuded subtle floral notes and an extra benefit we were told that although the wine boasts a 13% AVB, hang-over complications are nearly non-existence. The hibiscus wine now has a cult following, from well-know rock stars to enthusiastic locals and there is a waiting list as production is on a small family farm scale. We were fortunate to have a sip or two and to gather a few bottles for Chef Andy and Chef Sara’s recipe treasure trove.