Behind The Scenes at the Fontainebleau
Photo courtesy of Fontainebleau Miami Beach
If you’ve visited Miami in the past fifty years, you’ve likely been to the historic Fontainebleau hotel. In the 1950s and 60s, the resort hosted everyone from Frank Sinatra to Elvis Presley to Jackie Gleason and became a regular hangout for the Rat Pack. Since the Fontainebleau’s $1 billion, Vegas-style renovation in 2008, a regular rotation of celebs such as Gwyneth Paltrow, George Clooney, and Miley Cyrus have visited the iconic hotel (not to mention the guest list at legendary nightclub LIV is like a “who's who” of Hollywood.)
But the famous names are just a small part of the Fontainebleau; the resort’s celebrated food & beverage offerings are arguably the most prevalent draw for guests and visitors alike. The retreat boasts some of the best restaurants in the city, including fine dining options like Scott Conant’s famed Italian eatery Scarpetta, two outposts from San Francisco chef extraordinaire Michael Mina (StripSteak and Michael Mina 74), and the wildly popular Cantonese hot spot, Hakkasan. In addition, the destination is a great one for special events and conferences (to the tune of $40 million per year.)
What most people do not know about the Fontainebleau, though, is that a large portion of the hotel’s delectable food comes directly from an in-house, self-sufficient source aptly named “Waterworld.”
Ryan Wilson, executive chef of Fontainebleau, gave us a tour of the Batcave-like Waterworld, which was an undeniably unique experience. The star of Waterworld is, naturally, the six tanks that hold 3,000 gallons of all-natural seawater along with live fish, crabs, lobster, and more (there’s even a pet shark in there named “Bleau.”) “It’s all climate controlled,” explains Wilson. “We have a chiller system to chill it to the appropriate climate based on what species it is, where it’s from.” Biweekly water changes also ensure the tanks remain perfectly fresh.
Photo courtesy of Fontainebleau Miami Beach
But storage is only half of the story here. The beginning of this food chain belongs to Fontainebleau (as much as can be) as well. “We have our own boat called Bleaufish; it’s essentially a 43-foot lobster boat,” he says. The boat goes fishing whenever the weather is good, as in almost every single day. Fresh-caught fish are kept in a live tank and then served to order. “We have over 2,000 lobster trap, and 2,200 stone crab traps,” Wilson says of the operation. “Fish-wise, we get all line-caught, native species… we’ve literally caught 700 lbs of yellowtail in one day - all line-caught,” he says.
The seafood that can’t be caught in South Florida is still given the royal (live) treatment. “We have a partner out of Norway that we import live, true red king crabs from,” explains Wilson. They are kept alive and are in quite high demand, sold at $600 each. “Our goal is to control product from selection to the end-user. We outsource very little,” he says.
The seafood is only half of what makes this “underground farm” so impressive. Just past the fish tanks lives the dry-age room – where the hotel dries all of their own beef. “It ages for a minimum of 28 days before it goes to fabrication,” Wilson explains. The room covers the “four key elements of dry-aging – climate, airflow, humidity, and time.” One of Wilson’s favorite results of the process is Michal Mina 74’s Dry Aged Burger. He says of the dish: “We dry-age the whole chucks, then it goes into a blend of Wagyu brisket and short ribs. It’s quite spectacular.”
As if that wasn’t impressive enough for even the most die-hard meat lovers, they also have their own bacon program. The process includes a five-day brine, two days in the dry-age cooler, an eight-hour cold smoke (outside), and a chilled second day hot smoke. “We are trying to preserve that artisanal approach,” Wilson says. “Any opportunities we have where can affect and control the product… Why not?”
The operation is so impressive, in fact, that it’s a large part of their sales pitch to conference bookers. “It’s a huge selling tool for us as a resort… Companies will come look at us to see if we can host their group business, and when we do these tours, it really emphasizes the quality of our F&B [food and beverage],” he explains.
Just above Waterworld lives another important area: The chocolate room and bakery. The chocolate room is where all confections for the hotel’s sweets boutique, Chez Bon Bon, are made. Additionally, the chocolatiers produce unbelievable creations and desserts for special events (during our tour, they were testing designs for a miniature chocolate and marshmallow sculpture to deliver to the hotel’s VIP guests on New Year’s Eve.) Chez Bon Bon also produces its own gelato – 32 flavors to be exact (which can also be ordered from room service.)
The bakery, run by Chef Simon Bregardis (hot off a stint at the Bellagio in Las Vegas), is a 24/7 process where they bake moist croissants daily, make thousands of muffins, and cook fresh bread for every single restaurant in the hotel. “We are one of the last, if not the last, hotels in Florida to do this,” Bregardis explains.
So, the bottom line question of the resort’sunbelievable behind-the-scenes food operation becomes: Do the ends justify the means? “Well, we do about $150 million in F&B revenue to support this,” Wilson happily declares. And truth be told, dining at the Fontainebleau is an undeniable Miami-must.