Calif. resort’s nutritionist puts food awareness on the menu

Cocktails at Solviva, which serves wines and spirits that are organic, biodynamic and/or sustainable, such as vodka from Los Angeles’ Greenbar Distillery. (TW photo by Johanna Jainchill)

Cocktails at Solviva, which serves wines and spirits that are organic, biodynamic and/or sustainable, such as vodka from Los Angeles’ Greenbar Distillery. (TW photo by Johanna Jainchill)

Focus on Culinary Travel

Calif. resort’s nutritionist puts food awareness on the menu

By Johanna Jainchill

Cocktails at Solviva, which serves wines and spirits that are organic, biodynamic and/or sustainable, such as vodka from Los Angeles’ Greenbar Distillery. (TW photo by Johanna Jainchill)

Cocktails at Solviva, which serves wines and spirits that are organic, biodynamic and/or sustainable, such as vodka from Los Angeles’ Greenbar Distillery. (TW photo by Johanna Jainchill)

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, Calif. — When chef Bernard Ibarra was named head of the culinary program at Southern California’s Terranea Resort in 2013, having an on-staff nutritionist was not on his radar. 

Times have changed. 

Kitchens worldwide today are contending with a surge in the number of people who are vegan or gluten-free, with the rise in food allergies and with growing concern about how and where food is sourced. 

Amid this new reality, Ibarra brought on Navil Lorenzana, Terranea’s first on-site nutritionist and one of the very few full-time nutritionists on staff at any hotel or resort.

“She is amazing,” Ibarra said of Lorenzana. “She makes us a lot more relevant.” 

Lorenzana had been working in other positions at the 582-room Terranea, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, while getting a degree in nutrition and dietetics. She and Ibarra would talk about what she was studying at a time when he was looking for someone to give the department more insight on nutrition. Her position was formed from their collaboration.

Lorenzana, who grew up in Long Beach, Calif., not far from the resort, helps develop the menus at Terranea’s nine eateries, writes a biweekly column on nutrition and wellness for resort staff and helped launch Solviva, the property’s newest eatery, a health-focused restaurant that opened adjacent to Terranea’s spa pool in January. 

Lorenzana tackles nutrition from a number of angles.

“One day I might be doing food safety and another I’m talking to a VIP about what the best smoothie is to have after their class yoga,” she said. “I wear a lot of hats, but it’s always back to nutrition.”

She is the go-to when a client has a specific dietary need and the chefs don’t have the knowledge to adhere to it. When there is a menu being created for guests with celiac disease, hers are among “about 20 eyes” that have to see it. She educates the staff on how serious food allergies can be and helps them understand what people with certain conditions, such as Crohn’s disease, can and can’t eat. 

She has to know about food and medication interactions, which has become more important as the population ages. For example, she said, people taking Lipitor can’t eat grapefruit. 

Lorenzana also needs to be ahead of the curve when it comes to consumer attitudes toward food, which have changed radically over the years. As people become more selective about what they eat, they have higher expectations that resorts and hotels they stay at will cater to almost any dietary request. 

“The food industry is always changing with the time we’re in,” she said. “People are more aware of what they are putting into their body. Before, you just went to a restaurant and got served really good food. Now, there is a consciousness behind eating.”

Terranea attracts quite a few groups, and Lorenzana will help them work out specific menu needs. For example, when a group recently requested a juice bar, she worked with the coordinator to put together a menu of juices with varying benefits. 

“My position is to really enrich and share knowledge with people that goes beyond ‘This is good for you’ but why and what it does for your body,” she said.

‘My position is to really share knowledge with people that goes beyond ‘This is good for you.’’
Navil Lorenzana, Terranea

Helping to launch Solviva has been Lorenzana’s real passion project, one that has not always come easily. 

“It has been challenging at times to get the guests to buy in,” she said. “But it’s fun.” 

The entire menu at Solviva was created with wellness in mind and is “not about fad diets,” Lorenzana said. “We don’t adhere to keto, Atkins or low-carb.”

Instead, she said, the restaurant tries to be fruit- and vegetable-forward, offer simple carbs and use nothing processed. It buys locally and sustainably grown and sourced food, and menu items include vegetables from Terranea’s own farm, salt from the resort’s sea salt conservancy and kelp picked from the Pacific Ocean waters just off the resort’s coastline. 

Lorenzana works with chef RJ Dela Merced to create offerings that accommodate gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan diets. Its wine and spirits are organic, biodynamic and/or sustainable, such as vodka from Los Angeles’ Greenbar Distillery. 

Menu items include oysters served with the local kelp, grass-fed steak and lamb and sustainably caught fish. Brunch includes a selection of “energizing beverages,” a raw chia seed morning bowl and avocado sweet potato “toast,” which is a sweet potato stuffed with poached eggs, avocado, pico de gallo and pomegranate seeds.

On the brunch menu at Solvivia: avocado sweet potato “toast,” a sweet potato stuffed with poached eggs, avocado, pico de gallo and pomegranate seeds. (TW photo by Johanna Jainchill)

On the brunch menu at Solvivia: avocado sweet potato “toast,” a sweet potato stuffed with poached eggs, avocado, pico de gallo and pomegranate seeds. (TW photo by Johanna Jainchill)

Since opening in January, Lorenzana said, Solviva has been getting more traction with guests. One challenge the restaurant has is that because it is next to the spa, it maintains a 13-plus age limit, meaning Terranea’s many families can’t enjoy the eatery. 

But Lorenzana hopes to eventually design a health-conscious menu at every restaurant at the resort so that people with specific diets can eat in every establishment. She already sees a change in her co-workers at Terranea. They ask her questions about her column and are “getting more well-versed in the culture and the talk” of nutrition and the importance of making the right food choices.

That, she said, is ultimately her long-term goal: to help both guests and the staff be healthier.

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