Resort adds 'seat in the kitchen'

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SOMERSET, Bermuda -- When staff members began discussing adding a "Chef's Table" to the dining options at Cambridge Beaches resort, some were skeptical.

Would guests really want to give up the beauty and the bay views of the Tamarisk Room for, well, a seat in the kitchen?

Turns out they would.

But the Chef's Table is no ordinary dining experience.

A four- to seven-course gourmet meal is prepared nightly for up to eight guests seated around a table dressed with fine linens, rare china, crystal and silver. The table itself is on a platform, enabling guests to view cooking demonstrations throughout the evening.

"Our guests have been absolutely delighted," said executive chef Marc Dobbel. "They've been giving the Chef's Table rave reviews for having the highest level of cuisine and service."

The Chef's Table, which debuted in April, is one of several recent additions to Cambridge Beaches, which is located on a 25-acre peninsula at the western tip of the island near Somerset.

Bermuda's oldest cottage resort has spent $10 million -- $1.5 million in its dining areas alone -- on renovations in the past two years.

Beachfront dining was expanded at the Cambridge Beaches resort's Long Bay Cafe to serve up to 100 people. Long Bay Cafe, the beachfront restaurant, also has been expanded to seat up to 100 people.

Additions to the Ocean Spa include new treatment rooms, an expanded Relaxation Lounge and a new hydrotherapy bath facility.

The spa is part of a two-level, 10,000-square-foot wellness facility that has a Roman-style pool, a current pool, a whirlpool, a fitness center and a gift shop.

As part of the redo, 18 rooms were added, giving the resort 94 cottage rooms and suites. All of the buildings have been painted.

The grounds have been upgraded, with hammocks placed throughout the property to encourage guests to relax and take in the ocean views. The resort has five private beaches.

"We've created a place where our guests can get away from the stress of the world and enjoy beauty, peace, fun and caring service," said Richard Quinn, the manager of Cambridge Beaches and a native Bermudian.

Rates in high season, from April 16 to Oct. 31, range from $465 for a gardenview room, double occupancy, up to $1,480 for a two-bedroom cottage. Breakfast, English tea and dinner are included. Travel agent commission at the resort is 10%.

Occupancy rates, which fell at resorts across the island after 9/11, are beginning to rebound, according to Quinn.

The resort is expecting occupancy to climb this summer -- close to the rates it enjoyed before the 2001 tourism slump and economic downturn.

Summer rates were about 90%, while occupancy rates in November-December and early April were 60% and in winter about 40%.

Quinn said about 50% of the resort's guests return. One of the main reasons guests cite for returning to Cambridge Beaches is the quality of the food.

That's why chef Dobbel wanted to introduce the Chef's Table, the only one offered on the island.

"We wanted to offer a premium gourmet dining experience for small groups that would complement the array of other fine dining opportunities at the resort," Dobbel said.

Guests can sign up at the front desk or may receive an invitation from the chef himself.

Food preferences and any special requirements are requested before a special menu is created for that evening.

A recent dinner began with poached mainland lobster and scallops, followed by an entree of oven-roasted rack of black-faced lamb loin with a mustard and garden herb crust. Dessert was an orange and Grand Marnier souffle.

Dinner begins promptly at 7:15 p.m., but diners often linger until 10 p.m. Guests receive a special printed menu as a keepsake of the evening.

Resort guests pay an additional $30, plus 15% gratuity, above the meal plan. Nonguests pay $85 per person, plus 15% gratuity.

The atmosphere is decidedly more casual at the Long Bay Cafe. It's just steps away from the beach, so cold drinks, snacks, salads and sandwiches are made to order and can be eaten in the open-air dining area or on a lounge chair in the sun.

The cuisine may be a key draw at Cambridge Beaches, but the Ocean Spa is another. The resort was one of the first on the island to offer spa services in the early 1990s.

Today, its spa facilities are considered among "the most specialized, the most intimate and the most upscale," said Michael Ternent, owner of Bersalon, which operates the Ocean Spa.

More than 100 different treatments are offered by staff members, who were trained in Europe.

A la carte treatments begin at $35, but full-day programs are available, as well.

"We offer a premier introduction to spas for the beginner and an absolutely satisfying and impressive program for the experienced spa-goer, said Ternent.

"It's become so popular that we recommend guests make appointments prior to arrival."

For reservations or for more information, call (800) 468- 7300 or visit www.cambridgebeaches.com.

Sales pitch

• Appeal to your mature, high-income clients who you think could envision themselves playing cricket in shorts. (The sport is so popular that the government has declared the two-day Cricket Cup Match in late July and early August a legal holiday, and many people skip work to attend.)

• Send direct-mail pieces or e-mail messages to groups you've sent on golf or tennis outings. Let them know that the first game of tennis in the Western Hemisphere was played in Bermuda in 1873, and the sport remains popular at resorts. Advise them of Bermuda's top golf courses.

• Sell the location. It's fast and easy to get to, particularly with the new direct flights that make it less than two hours from the East Coast.

• Qualify your clients. Contact seniors for whom the island's small size would have great appeal. Bermuda is small enough that visitors can stay in one place and still visit all of the major sites easily.

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