From Miami, Islamorada’s Cheeca Lodge & Spa may be a relatively short drive, but it’s a world away from the stresses of metropolitan life. Now, with chef Niven Patel at the helm of the resort’s three restaurants, there is much more on Cheeca’s menu than relaxation and rejuvenation.
After three years as chef de cuisine of Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, the Midtown flagship from James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Schwartz, Patel has big plans for his new endeavor.
“My main focus is to bring the farm-to-table approach to Cheeca,” said Patel, 32. “I want to grow vegetables on the property and work with local farmers who will help me. We can have a greenhouse and herb bushes. Guests can see tomatoes and carrots and kale. We have so much land, and we can integrate the garden in a way that’s user-friendly and interactive.”
FRESH FROM RANCHO PATEL
His roster of trusted Homestead farmers will help him build the on-site infrastructure, which he hopes will be up by summer’s end. Meantime, Patel will keep highlighting dishes with food from his own garden – lovingly called Rancho Patel – in the backyard of his Homestead home, including fresh summer mangos and lychees.
Patel takes great pride in sourcing from local suppliers, from vegetables to artisanal flour to fish.
“You would think fresh fish would be a norm in the Keys, but it’s pretty sad how many restaurants don’t use fresh fish,” he said. “A lot of fish is actually from Panama or South America when we have so many amazing resources in our water.”
Diners can expect touches of his and his wife’s Indian heritage, with dishes like wahoo crudo, pickled shiitake mushrooms and green mango.
“Very vegetable-forward but light on spices,” Patel said of the Indian influence in his cooking. “Not like people here are accustomed to eating at Indian restaurants.”
SUN, FUN AND FOOD
Patel comes to Cheeca Lodge & Spa (81801 Overseas Highway, Islamorada) as the storied resort celebrates its 70th anniversary. As executive chef, Patel oversees fine dining at Atlantic’s Edge, Asian-inspired fare at Nikai Sushi and Italian cuisine at Limoncello, as well as catering for special events. This is his second act at Cheeca, having been executive chef there in 2011.
“I was still trying to figure out my style of food, and since that time, it’s night and day when it comes to food creativity and the confidence of knowing what I’m doing,” he said.
In addition to top eats, the 27-acre beachfront resort offers a full-service watersports program with sailing, snorkeling and kayaking excursions; six tennis courts; a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course; adult and family pools; direct beach access; and a full-service spa. Children can take part in environmental exploration programs at Camp Cheeca. The resort also features a classic 525-foot wooden fishing pier, a practical nod to the property’s history.
Patel said he looks forward to welcoming his fans from Michael’s Genuine at Cheeca.
“It’s a great staycation! There are so many amenities on the property, and the two-hour drive from Miami is calming and relaxing.”
Photography of Niven Patel by Nick Garcia | INDULGE | firstname.lastname@example.org
This content originally appeared in the June/July 2016 issue of INDULGE, a luxury lifestyle magazine published by the Miami Herald. For more information, visit miamiindulge.com. Follow INDULGE on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.