NEW YORK—With the help of its executive chef, Four Seasons Hotel New York Downtown launched a new health-conscious menu for the hotel’s in-room dining service and spa.
“We wanted to have a wellness menu for the spa from the beginning,” said Shaun Acosta, who’s been the executive chef at the property—located in lower Manhattan—since its opening in September 2016. “But during the opening, we wanted to figure out our capabilities. Then, once we were up and running, we started to expand our food offerings.”
Acosta’s team tested items as they developed them. “This is a pretty standard part of menu development,” he said. “We didn’t have a trial period for the menu.”
Just a few weeks after Global Wellness Day, which the world celebrated on June 9, the 189-room property rolled out what it’s calling its “dedicated health and wellness” menu.
“It was more about developing the wellness menu when the time was right,” Acosta said. “I didn’t want to rush out a menu just for the sake of getting it done. I wanted it to be right.”
For the property’s top chef, there weren’t many challenges with developing the menu, which has a range of fruit, juice and smoothie options—all of which were created with wellness in mind. Acosta claims the smoothies—many of which contain superfoods—promote healthy organ function and boost the immune system. For example, on the menu is an oldie but goodie: The Energizer Smoothie, which has been highlighted on the property’s standard in-room dining menu since 2016. It is made up of the following ingredients: beets, blueberries, ginger, cold-pressed apple juice and agave.
“Creating the menu was quite easy,” he said. “I try to eat a healthy diet (for the most part), so I wanted to offer dishes that were simple, nutritious and tasted good.”
Years ago, the property’s top chef had some stomach issues, so he decided to make an appointment with his doctor. “My doctor prescribed some medication that worked but never completely fixed the issue, so I started paying more attention to what I ate,” Acosta said. “After doing some research, I put myself through kind of a ‘food intervention’ and decided to try the Whole30 diet.” After 50 days of testing out the diet, he felt better.
“This really opened my eyes to how what we eat can affect how we feel, so I used that approach when writing the wellness menu,” he said.
On the menu, there are three other smoothies: Health Nut, made with almond butter, banana, dates, Greek yogurt and honey; Antioxidant, with blueberries, acai, banana, Greek yogurt and honey; and Mango-Mint, with orange juice, yogurt and lime.
The menu includes a roasted beet salad with smoked goat cheese, radish, Brooklyn Lager vinaigrette and roasted sunflower seeds; and seared tuna with bok choy, furikake and brown butter miso.
“I wanted the dishes to be light, and the guest to feel good after eating them,” Acosta said. “As much as I love a slice of pizza or a bowl of pasta, I usually need some recovery time after eating them.”
Also on the property’s new health and wellness menu is the yellowfin tuna poke, which is the chef’s favorite item. “I lived and worked in Hawaii for 10 years before moving to New York, and poke was a staple at every meal,” he said. “There’s nothing like fresh tuna mixed with a few simple ingredients. Poke was cool in Hawaii way before it became cool everywhere else.” The fish is served with soy, sesame, sweet onions and scallions.
Fresh ingredients from local organic farms are used in many of the dishes. “As far as the ingredients, I try to use whole, unprocessed foods as much as possible,” Acosta said. “This, again, is better on your digestive system, and you feel better after eating.” Many of the products the chef uses for the food items on the menu are from the New York tri-state area.
“Being from California, I didn’t realize that New York and New Jersey had so many great products to offer,” he said. “I have great vendors that will source items from specific local farmers or ranches.”
The property’s head chef serves all his meals on dishes designed by Jono Pandolfi. “He is an amazing potter,” Acosta said. “We partnered with him for all of our in-room dining plates. His style fit perfectly with our restaurant-in-your-room concept (which I refer to as a ‘rustic elegance’) so we continued using them for the wellness menu.”
“The feedback has been great and guests continue to order from the menu,” he said. “The most popular dish by far is the Super Salad. It’s kale tossed with avocado, heirloom tomatoes, radish, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil and crispy quinoa. It’s simple, fresh, and I think we are still riding the kale trend from a few years ago.”
Acosta doesn’t expect the new food offerings to be short-lived. At the moment, according to the chef, there isn’t an expiration date for the menu.
“I’m sure we will enhance the menu as we go along,” he said. “In the hospitality world, innovation is key.”
In order to stay ahead of the curve, Acosta tries to eat out as much as he can, with a goal of trying at least one new restaurant a month.
“All of the different social media platforms are a great way to stay current,” he said. “We all have instant access to what’s happening.” HB