"Done with Oatmeal"
As a 33-year veteran of the company, Executive Chef Manfred Lassahn at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa in Huntington Beach, California, has honed his chops as a special-request satisfier. In Los Angeles, he launched an entire vegan program at a Hyatt restaurant; years ago, he studied the guidelines behind Kosher meals for events. But in Huntington Beach, he’s learned to anticipate guests’ needs—for example, substituting good fats for bad. Recently, one of Lassahn’s morning servers piqued the chef’s creative streak with Instagram images from around the country to pinpoint new trends.
“I color outside the lines and am always looking for what’s new and different—asking how can we take what we’re doing and make it that much better,” Lassahn explains. “I follow both food and health trends, keeping my ear to the ground to see what people are looking for. And if they don’t know what they’re looking for, we put it out there, and they gravitate toward it.”
Though the menu at the property’s Watertable restaurant has always featured healthy options, prior to spring break this year, Lassahn declared himself “done with oatmeal” and started experimenting with menu-enhancing alternatives for the Breakers and summer crowds. He added cold options such as smoothies, parfaits, Chill Bowls (healthy breakfast bowls spotlighting pitaya, spirulina, kale, and avocado), and Pudding Pots layered with chia seed pudding, fresh fruit, and smoothies in Mason jars, topped with frosted berries and edible flowers.
Layered with chia seed pudding, fresh fruit, and smoothies, and topped with frosted berries and edible flowers, Mason jar Pudding Pots have become gotta-get-one-of-those eye-catchers when served. “People love it; the Pudding Pots are the perfect eye candy as they’re walked through the restaurant, and the healthy grain bowls are really popular during cooler weather,” Lassahn says. “Oatmeal is still served on the breakfast buffet and in room service, but people are leaning toward the savory breakfast bowls.” The Pudding Pots ($8 each) are, from left: Fuschia (fresh market berries, honey vanilla chia seed pudding, pitaya smoothie, and frosted berries), Green (fresh mango, vanilla-coconut chia seed pudding, matcha wheatgrass smoothie, fresh mango, and shaved coconut), and Pink (market berries, cinnamon chocolate chia seed pudding, raspberry smoothie, frosted berries, and edible flora).
Savory hot breakfast bowls round out the fresh-food focus. The quinoa bowl includes hemp and chia seeds, macadamia nuts, and soft-centered egg, topped with pesto made from carrot tops; a barley bowl, with cucumber, avocado, blistered tomatoes, and fresh kale, is garnished with a swirl of sumac yogurt and a soft-poached egg; and the three-grain bowl, featuring quinoa, brown rice, and millet, mixes with avocado, cherry tomatoes, egg, and tahini-lime honey sauce.
“Manny has adapted so well to our menus; we have everything at our fingertips,” says Nancy Monte-Frye, senior director of events. “The requests that come through, 20 years ago we wouldn’t have been able to handle, but Manny’s been able to come through for every dietary request, and we have great variety on our menus. We do so much to customize, and the chef is very involved. When he can talk through different aspects of the menu, it changes everything.” [Click here to see our feature on the hotel’s refreshment breaks].
Watertable, a “rustic and refined” outlet, was built more for the Orange County food scene and less for the resort—and was voted one of the top 100 restaurants in the United States in OpenTable’s Diner’s Choice Awards, in its first seven months. With the new breakfast options, weekends serve a 50-50 mix of guests and locals, while weekdays host about 15% to 20% locals in the morning hours.
“We continue to evolve, but the idea was to have items on the menu that people understood but that weren’t generic or mainstream,” Lassahn explains. “For example, our lemon-blueberry pancakes are crafted a day in advance with fresh lemon juice and rind, served with hive honey and blueberries.”
Lassahn estimates that 25% to 30% of the food served on weekends is healthy, but that number climbs to 50% during the week. To attract guests, the team set up sandwich boards that highlight the restaurant’s healthy options, drawing in conference attendees for a smoothie or quinoa bowl (pictured) before the day’s meetings or during breaks. Menus, printed inhouse, can change week to week to scratch any weak sellers from the list. And no new equipment was needed; Mason jars and hand-thrown bowls were already on hand.
Guests at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach enjoy an average stay of three to five days, says Lassahn (pictured), so they appreciate choosing from more options. TripAdvisor reviews corroborate his observation and reward the risk he took with the menu experimentation. One guest in late May posted, “As part of our hotel package, we had a free daily breakfast at the Watertable. WOW—the food is incredible. We tried a different menu item each day. The service was top-notch!”
Guests can cheat a couple of times during their stay or stay on course while sculpting a summer body. “I was looking at what people were gravitating to, and if you have the audience, rather than waiting for them to ask for it, show them you have it,” he says. “Everything on the menu melds together to create a must-visit breakfast stop.”
The healthy focus has paid definite dividends: Last May, a local ABC affiliate featured a seven-minute morning news segment on the property’s four breakfast grain bowls. “We’ve had fun doing it, and because of that, no one [on staff] has a problem talking about it or selling it—an integral part,” Lassahn explains. “We arm the restaurant staff, during any menu change, with a photo, list of ingredients, and labeling for vegan, gluten-free, or anything else, so at the table they can speak intelligently without having to go ask the chef. That’s really important to the customer, that the staff is armed with knowledge.” Pictured: The three-grains breakfast bowl.