The sun was starting its late afternoon descent over the ocean on the distant horizon, and there was just enough of a breeze to be chilled. Gas patio heaters were stationed every few feet hissing out warmth like well behaved dragons. The beautiful third floor balcony views of the lush grounds, dotted with vibrant red bougainvillea vines and with the ocean in the distance, brought a wide smile of contentment to my face.
I'm sure the over-priced cosmopolitan contributed to my sense of relaxation, heightening the feeling of exorbitant luxury I was already experiencing by just being at a Four Seasons Hotel. We were waiting for our room and luggage at the Aviara Four Seasons near Carlsbad, and I could already tell this was one business trip I was glad my husband had to attend.
The Four Seasons Resorts are famous for their impeccable service and attention to detail. They set themselves apart in the hospitality industry by re-defining luxury as highly personalized service. Guests are always greeted by name, and as we sat on the balcony, no fewer than three servers approached to make sure we were comfortable. Then the food and beverage manager stopped to say, "hello," and to see if we had any questions. I think he was expecting questions about the area, sites of interest and standard "where is the nearest bathroom." But I wanted to know about his job, his responsibilities, the company, his background, and if I could have a tour of the kitchens. He only showed a second of surprise before telling me he would speak with the chef to see what he could arrange. My hopes were not very high, but I thought it was worth a shot and gave him my contact information.
Later at that evening's banquet, I asked our server what was behind the paneled door. She invited me behind the wall into the resort's pastry kitchen. As I left our Cuban-themed party, where salsa dance lessons were getting under way, I stepped right into the middle of another dance in the large kitchen. Five chefs were busy prepping items for the next day's events, including a wedding cake, several hundred individual apple crumbles, chocolate mousse cakes and donuts, spray painted with melted chocolate using a compressorized air brush. A separate room just for chocolate work and candy production was not in use that evening, but I could see the marble topped tables and 25 pound slabs of chocolate through the window. The very large walk-in refrigerator was impeccably clean and organized. Racks of cinnamon rolls were in their final rise, waiting to be baked for breakfast service. Pounds of butter, gallons of heavy whipping cream and at least 50 dozen eggs lined the shelves waiting to become something decadent.
My visit was brief but exciting and I returned to my own party with sweet inspiration. The next day as I sat on my balcony watching the outdoor wedding, I was surprised to receive a call from a lead chef inviting me for a quick tour of the kitchens before the evening rush.
The massive kitchen complex was centrally located and branched off like spokes in a wheel to service the different restaurants and banquet rooms. There were seven major kitchens, each independent but connected through certain products they received or created for another kitchen. The main kitchen serviced the Bistro Restaurant, the lobby bar, 24-hour room service, the three pool kitchens, and the golf course. Then there was the pantry kitchen with extra large walk-in refrigerators and freezers to receive and prep product used throughout the complex.
Right next to that was the fine dining restaurant kitchen, which had work tables covered with pans of expensive chanterelle mushrooms, duck breasts and foie gras. Cooks with greater finesse, who strive for perfection and artistry in the final plate presentation, tend to gravitate toward fine dining work. A few more steps and the cold kitchen, literally inside a giant cold room, had four chefs who were busy preparing classic garde manger items. These chefs have very refined knife skills and turn food into works of art. Intricate fruit carvings, lattice carved cucumbers too beautiful to eat, tomatoes resembling roses, composed salads, house-made salami and pates were everywhere you looked.
The banquet kitchen was downstairs, and the catacomb leading behind the large ballrooms left me with visions of dignitaries sneaking out the backdoors to avoid the public. I almost said out loud, "Elvis has left the building," as we turned the corner in the long white hallway. 10 tables - covered with stacks of plates three deep - lined the walls outside the banquet kitchen. Food would be quickly dished and served to the 600 guests expected in the grand ballroom that evening. I was trying to grasp the volume of food that would be served from this area in a few hours as I stood watching six chefs quietly dance around each other. Chefs, who rise in production kitchens like this one love to work under pressure, in the fast paced settings of banquets. They find the rush addictive. This kitchen would produce the largest quantity of food with the fewest people in the shortest amount of time.
As I sat that evening in a smaller banquet room watching my servers orchestrate the delivery of our delicious meal, I had a new appreciation for how easy they made it look. Because I could picture in my mind the dance happening behind those closed doors.
Lodi resident Nancy Rostomily is a southern girl at heart, who enjoys the art and science of food. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.