Edgewater Beach Hotel and its Coast restaurant are committed to offering menu options that are as delicious as they are healthy.
Coast, the on-site restaurant at Edgewater Beach Hotel, has long been a leader in the healthy dining movement in Naples. And while many think that was owed to them becoming an early adopter of Blue Zones Project® here in Southwest Florida (more on this county-wide initiative below), the emphasis on eating healthy by sourcing local and as high-quality as possible has very much been a part of the resort experience since day one. “We immediately began to build relationships with local farmers, fishermen, and purveyors,” says the hotel’s food and beverage manager, Mckenzie Van Essen-Morris. “This commitment to offer guests healthy choices has become woven into the very fabric of who we are – from food and beverage to front office to housekeeping.”
But if your idea of eating with an eye toward the best and most health-conscious choices sounds like a bit of a buzzkill (after all, aren’t vacations about indulging?), Van Essen-Morris is here to show you how it’s the oh-so opposite when it comes to dining at Coast, where dishes aren’t just healthy but delicious.
First of all, what is “Blue Zones®” and what inspired Coast to partner with this program?
“The concept for the Blue Zones Project® actually stemmed from the research that a National Geographic explorer and author, Dan Buettner, conducted back in the early 2000s. Basically, he identified places around the world (what he dubbed “blue zones”) where people lived longer and measurably better lives, then spent roughly a decade working with scientists to uncover exactly what people in these locations were doing to live unusually longer. What they found is that, yes, it was about what they ate, but even more so that they lived in communities that reinforced healthy behaviors, like moving their bodies a lot, taking the time to de-stress, eating well, etc.
So the idea is that when you live in a place where making healthy choices comes easy, you are more likely to do that and not even think twice about it. Blue Zones® took this idea and worked with communities across North America to transform the environments into healthier ones – Collier County, where Naples is located, being one of them.”
So did you have to take a pledge to become a part of this program?
“In a way, yes. Those who participate have to commit to creating surroundings that allow people to default to healthier behaviors. While Blue Zones Project® provides resources and tools to do that, like I said, Edgewater Beach Hotel was already very much doing that, not just in our food and beverage, but in our programming and the way our property is built. It was natural because Naples is already a very health-conscious community. In fact, Collier County has held the title for second-healthiest county in the state of Florida for many years.”
What does it mean to be a “Blue Zones Project Approved™” restaurant?
“There are certain requirements that we have to meet. Some of those requirements include a focus on whole, plant-based foods, limited dairy and meat proteins, and more fish and legumes. It’s easier to put a spice rub on a piece of chicken, serve it with sauteed vegetables, and call it a day, but that’s not why we’re here. Menu descriptions go a long way toward encouraging our guests to embrace our Be Well menu options – after all, we eat with our eyes first.”
Where does your team get the inspiration for your menu items?
“Our location is definitely a big source of inspiration for our menus. We’re right on the ocean, so seafood obviously figures prominently in our menu items. Staying true to our tropical location means sourcing local produce and ingredients for vibrant, colorful, and healthy options.”
Are there certain myths about healthy food that you want Coast to dispel?
“The idea that all carbohydrates are bad is pretty common, but there are plenty of alternatives out there, too. It’s about figuring out where you can swap in healthy carbs for starches that don’t have as much nutritional value, and of course, portion control.”
Chef Jonathan Ricciardella is the mastermind behind the menu – is there something special you think he brings to the restaurant in regards to healthy eating?
“He’s always on the lookout for seasonal produce and unique flavor profiles – we recently had watermelon radishes, which I never knew existed. He loves pasta – he is Italian, after all – but he likes to give it his own twist, and incorporate local seafood when possible.”
Do you have a favorite dish?
“I love our new Mediterranean Power Bowl. I tend to prefer salty flavors over sweet, and the feta cheese and kalamata olives satisfy that. I can’t eat quinoa, so I usually substitute cauliflower rice or arugula. I also love The Unbeetable cocktail, which features beet puree, lemon, agave nectar, and vodka. I don’t even like beets, and it’s my favorite.
It’s important that guests know that these are not corporate recipes, developed in a lab somewhere. We hire the best and trust them to develop a menu based on their skill set, knowledge of ingredients, and understanding of our guests. For example, it’s okay to order the chicken parmesan, but maybe you swap the traditional pasta for zucchini noodles, and we would never think twice about honoring a request to split a meal. Our waitstaff is well-versed in substitutions, and we can accommodate almost any dietary restriction. Our focus is on the guest experience and empowering them to effortless make those healthy decisions. Think of it as a little extra nudge.”
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