Honored as one of the “Healthiest Chefs in America” by The Aspen Center for Integral Health, Chef Bill is known for his warmth and larger-than-life persona. He is long-hailed as a triple-crown winner in the culinary community for his work at three top spas, the Golden Door, Miraval, and Rancho La Puerta. The author of a James Beard Award-nominated cookbook, he’s the only spa chef to have received a 10-page feature devoted to him in the legendary food magazine, Gourmet. Currently, he is the chef at Glen Ivy Hot Springs where he revels in the abundance of year-round, fresh local produce, and the resort’s own organic gardens and orchards.
Insider’s: You’ve worked in some amazing spa kitchens in your day. How’d you get your spa start?
Bill Wavrin: I was teaching French culinary arts at the Culinary Academy in San Francisco, and one of the chefs received a phone call from the concierge at Rancho La Puerta, asking to speak to a Spanish-speaking chef who would be able to work in Mexico. This was 1990…I flew down to San Diego, to the owner, Deborah Szekely’s house, knocked on the door, and all I heard was “Come on in, it’s open,” then “Sit on the couch!”
I’ve learned that when we have a conscious connection to what we eat — how it’s prepared, how it’s grown, and where it comes from — it reinforces that sharing the pleasures of good food is fundamental to building a healthy body, a healthy family, and a healthy community.
Insider’s: What was your initial reaction?
BW: Here was this lady running around the house who had 25 minutes before she had to leave for New York City. I didn’t see her! She was just a blur going from one part of the house to another. Then her son, Alex, walked in and introduced himself. He asked me five questions about vegetarian spa cuisine, then asked me if I wanted to go for a ride in his new car. I was at the Ranch for 12 years and wrote the Rancho La Puerta cookbook there.
Insider’s: What was your impression of spa cuisine at the time?
BW: It was bland, blah, and really Spartan. Spas back then were usually fat farms and fat and calories were scaled way back. Everything was sort of brown with greens. When I first went to the Ranch in 1990, they had a cleanse going on. You got cucumber juice, almonds, and a few nuts and seeds. That was pretty much starving people to meet a certain goal, to lose weight or to knock that notch off your belt. But it missed the turn — the turn was you have to make it accessible to where people enjoy it. When I first arrived, I added protein.
Insider’s: Sounds like it was quite the learning experience.
BW: I got my BS in nutrition through Deborah. I had to know everything, and I had better know it, because she did! Not long after I started at the Ranch, she threw a box of pencils and the USDA catalog of nutritional value of foods in my lap and said, “I want you know this and apply it to every menu item we have and every menu item you’re going to build.”
Insider’s: How has spa cuisine changed since then?
BW: It’s refined itself, tightened itself up. The world is getting smaller, getting foods from all over the world is easier, and we’re able to see what other countries are doing. The information is more readily available, and I think that the culture, or society itself has become much more aware of what’s good and what isn’t.
Insider’s: What’s your approach to food?
BW: It’s simple. I want our guests to enjoy delicious, good food created with care from healthy plants and animals. In my 25 years as a spa chef, I’ve learned that when we have a conscious connection to what we eat — how it’s prepared, how it’s grown, and where it comes from — it reinforces that sharing the pleasures of good food is fundamental to building a healthy body, a healthy family, and a healthy community.