Grain Man

In the Arizona desert, Miraval's Cary Neff elevates spa food
Miraval isn't your ordinary health spa. Sure, there are hot rock massages and a tri-level pool complete with an acupressure stone walk. But the Catalina, Arizona, resort also has an unusual--and welcome--philosophy about food: that no one should feel deprived when sitting down to eat. "There's nothing you can request that we won't get," says chef Cary Neff. "We've run to the store to buy lobster and duck for guests."

Neff, 36, a veteran of the Scottsdale Princess and other top Arizona resorts, doesn't believe in serving unlimited amounts of nonfat food: "At some spas, you lose weight, but then you head straight to the 16-ounce T-bone at the steak house." Instead, he offers sensible portions of what he calls "real-life food" to reflect the choices people have at home. "We serve wine because this is reality. We don't encourage drinking but if you ask for a glass of wine, we have some fine vintages." 

So why don't guests leave 10 pounds heavier? Because Neff builds menus around grains and greens, made with little fat. By emphasizing barley with mashed potatoes instead of beef tenderloin, Neff helps guests shift their focus in a healthier direction. And his cooking classes teach his fans to prepare the same delicious food at home. "Guests always write back to say the things they've learned here have changed their life," he says.

PUBLISHED February 1997

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