Insider's Guide to Spas
Chef Justin Macy of Miraval


Rising Star Chef Justin Macy

Rima Suqi

Justin Macy lied his way into a cafeteria chef job at Miraval when he was just 17 years old. His mother worked as a Garde Manger Chef for the Tucson area spa and Macy says that in his interview he claimed “I can do anything my mom can.” But he had zero cooking experience—unless you count a stint working at a local pizza joint, and some time spent working the drive-through at McDonalds. Now 31, Macy learned all he knew on the job, and clearly did well—he’s now the Executive Chef for the resort. When we sat down he had a thick red spiral notebook filled with recipes for a book he wrote with Miraval’s Pastry Chef Kim Macy, who happens to be his wife. Sweet and Savory will be published by Hay House in January.

Insider’s: You seriously didn’t know how to cook when you got the job at Miraval?

Justin Macy: My mom was a Garnisher Chef here, back when Miraval first opened. She did fruit sculptures and ice sculptures, like turning a watermelon into a carousel, and was really good at it. Growing up I didn’t care about any of that stuff, when I was a kid I played sports. And since I worked at a pizzeria, I could make pizzas. But I lied, and on my first day here, probably within the first ten minutes, they realized this guy could not cook. I got called every name in the book. It was bad.

Insider’s: Obviously it worked out.

JM: It was only meant to be a summer job to make some money. But I never left and 14 years later, here I am.

Insider’s: Did you go to culinary school?

JM: I thought about it but got talked out of going by Cary Neff, who used to be an Executive Chef here. He really helped rocket Miraval to what it is today; Oprah came here because of him, she loved him. But I learned everything on the job.

Insider’s: How do you feel about spa cuisine?

JM: Eating light and healthy is the way to be. It just makes you feel better. But a lot of people think spa food is going to be tasteless and bland, with small portions. It’s definitely a small portion type of food but it doesn’t have to be bland. It excites me and is challenging. I like challenging things.

Insider’s: How is it challenging?

JM: I sometimes think that if I worked in a regular kitchen, I’d be a superstar. The bigger, the better, the more fattening. I mean, I can make a béchamel sauce any day of the week. If I mess it up? Add more butter and we’re good to go! But in spa cooking, if you mess up, you have to start over. You can’t cover that flavor up with fats — you have to bring it out with other flavors. And every recipe has to go through our nutritionist. So some days I’m banging my head against a computer because she’s saying there’s too many types of fat in a dish, or too many calories. A lot of it is trial and error.

Insider’s: I feel like it’s all about specialty vinegars.

JM: We actually only have 15 kinds in the kitchen. Our go-to here is Rice Wine vinegar. But in our new book we do talk about Balsamic Reduction— you see it on everything here—it’s that black syrupy drizzle. It has almost no fat or calories, it’s pungent in flavor, and simple to make. You buy a bottle of balsamic and you simmer it for 45 minutes, the slower you reduce the sweeter it tastes. You can take a $20 gallon of balsamic you bought at Costco and it will taste like a 100-year-old $80 balsamic when you’re done. The same with red-wine reduction. Take your favorite red wine (I like Cabernet) and do the same thing. You can use either on grilled chicken, a salad, whatever. Spend an afternoon making both and they’ll last, refrigerated, for 3 months.

Insider’s: Any food trends you’re sick of? Like, say, kale?

JM: It is interesting because all the fads happening outside Miraval, have already happened at Miraval. We’ve been doing black kale for over 14 years. I constantly walk into [our CEO’s] office with a new food magazine, throw it down and say “look at this – we’ve been doing this for ten years and never got it into the paper.” Some guy in Chicago just discovered what Xanthan Gum can do to sauces. We’ve been using it forever.

Rima Suqi

Rima Suqi

An avid world traveler raised in an international home, Rima has explored and covered emerging destinations in the Middle East and Africa, far-flung luxury resorts in French Polynesia, as well as those closer to home, and the burgeoning arts scene in Marfa, Texas. Rima has traveled to over 30 countries, writing about the trends and tastemakers for leading travel and lifestyle publications, and subjected herself to innumerable spa treatments — sometimes under very odd circumstances — all in the name of journalism. A weekly contributor to The New York Times Home section, Rima held the envious position of Best Bets Editor at New York Magazine for six years, and is regularly published in national magazines including T Magazine/The New York Times, Departures, Architectural Digest, Elle Décor and American Way. Her last book American Fashion: Designers at Home (Assouline) in partnership with CFDA, sold out three printings.