Secrets from spa chefs: vegetarian experts share their favorite recipes and cooking tips

Every New Year we resolve to adopt a healthier diet, lose weight and get fit. But as we all know, it often takes more than good intentions to implement change in our lives. Transforming daily lifestyle patterns to achieve personal health goals can be a struggle and most of us could benefit from a helping hand. Visiting a health spa, whether it’s for one day or a week, may be just the thing you need to help you turn your resolutions into realities. At the very least, you’ll find relief from the stresses of the daily grind. At best, you’ll alter your approach to food and learn how to maintain a sense of well-being.

As we interviewed chefs and owners of some of the top spas across the country, we found that each facility had its own unique character and focus. So, if you’re thinking about going to a spa, choose one that best suits your needs. Southern California’s Golden Door gained international attention for its elegant, personalized service. Executive Chef Michel Stroot’s innovative cooking style, based upon vegetarian principles, has influenced dining trends, both here and abroad.

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“More than half of our produce comes from our own organic gardens,” says Stroot. “For health reasons, we do not use butter or red meat, and we do not serve fried foods.” Stroot refers to these as “aggressive foods.” “People who eat a lot of aggressive foods tend to be aggressive themselves,”‘ he says. An admirer of Asian cuisine, Stroot relies upon brown rice, homemade stocks, seasonal produce, citrus, organic herbs and spices to compose his menu.

Florida’s Fit for Life Spa provides guests with attentive service in an opulent setting. Health Director John Gronna follows the natural hygiene philosophy of living created in 1830 by Herbert Shelton. “We believe that the body cleans, heals and repairs itself when given the opportunity,” explains Gronna. “We avoid foods that we feel are injurious to human health, and put across a simple lifestyle that includes vegetarian cuisine.” Fit for Life’s dishes are not only low in fat but visually appealing as well. Vegan Sushi is presented with a multicolored selection of dipping sauces. Pasta Primavera showcases spring vegetables at their peak of freshness. Adding visual interest is one of the easiest ways to brighten meals and rejuvenate lackluster diets.

Nestled in the red-rock beauty of Snow Canyon, Utah, Franklin Quest Institute of Fitness has helped numerous guests address their health and diet wish list. Martin Peterson, marketing director, describes the spa’s approach as, “Eat more, move more, lose more.” A low-fat, mostly vegetarian diet, along with exercise, makes this commonsense philosophy work. “Don’t go hungry,” advises Peterson, and Franklin Quest visitors certainly do not. Self-service salad, fruit and beverage bars are offered at mealtimes, in addition to delicious entrees like Moroccan Vegetables over Couscous, Vegan Mexican Crepes and Chinese stirfries. These dishes fuel exhilarating sports activities set against the spectacular natural backdrop.

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Just as scenic, Dr. Deal’s Hawaiian Wellness Holiday features exercise programs but places emphasis on natural holds’ tic therapies, stress reduction techniques and a healthful diet. Dr. Grady Deal believes that it is important to incorporate raw foods into most dishes. “I try to use 30 percent raw ingredients,” says Deal. “I add uncooked vegetables to cooked ones, and serve a lot of fresh juices and salads. I also include essential oils, like sesame and flax seed, and season with fresh herbs, toasted seeds, flavorful grains and vegetables.”

At The Raj, a popular resort in Iowa which focuses on Ayurvedic teachings, sesame oil is used not only for cooking but for therapy too. According to Sandra Willbanks, director of public relations, “We use a combination of internal and external Ayurvedic treatments. Sesame oil and herbs are absorbed into the skin as part of the external process. Our doctor then prescribes foods appropriate for each individual.” Lindsay Oliver, marketing director, explains, “The foods are geared toward enhancing digestion. Those undergoing treatments will be given primarily a liquid diet, but visitors to our restaurant can sample a variety of vegetarian foods, like our delicious Indian breads.”

While India is not on their current itinerary, Global Fitness Adventures takes guests to practically every other corner of the world. Dominica, Italy, Bhutan and Africa are just a few of this traveling ecospa’s destinations. “Private chefs are part of our team,” says Kristina Hurrell, director, so delicious spa food travels with you, even to remote areas.

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“We believe in water-rich, organic foods, which are important for cleaning out your bloodstream,” says Hurrell. “Our foods are tailored to physical activity. Fertile egg omelets might be served after a long hike to provide extra protein, but lighter packed lunches might include a salad of baby greens; celery, which is a source of natural salt; oranges for electrolytes, and main dishes like our savory Lemon-Ginger-Garlic Tempeh in Oat Pita Pockets.”

Hurrell, like all the other spa chefs and experts surveyed, expressed a strong interest in promoting vegetarian cuisine as a means to achieving a healthier life. Excellent vegetarian or vegetarian-friendly spas are now the rule rather than the exception. With so many to choose from, it won’t be hard to get the help you need to maintain those diet and fitness resolutions. Meanwhile, our spa-recipe roundup can get you started.

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