In the vibrant world of wellness retreats, every so often, an opportunity arises that allows us to delve deeper into the heart of what makes these sanctuaries so special. Recently, Health Travel Magazine had the privilege of interviewing Meredith Haaz, the culinary maestro behind The Ranch’s innovative and transformative dining experiences. Her insights, which we’ll share shortly, offer a rare glimpse into the brand’s commitment to nourishing both the body and soul.
The Ranch isn’t just any wellness retreat. It’s a beacon for those seeking transformative experiences, set against the backdrop of two of the world’s most breathtaking landscapes. With a philosophy deeply rooted in holistic well-being, The Ranch promises a journey where every step, every meal, and every moment is curated to rejuvenate, revitalise, and inspire.
The Ranch has two wonderful properties. The first, set amidst the tranquil landscapes of Malibu, The Ranch Malibu offers guests a serene oasis where the Californian sun, sea, and sky come together in a harmonious embrace. The second property is nestled in Italy’s picturesque alpine beauty. The Ranch Italy offers a different kind of tranquillity, where the crisp mountain air and lush green meadows form a haven for relaxation and reflection.
The Ranch’s Unique Philosophy
At The Ranch, wellness isn’t just a goal—it’s an art form. Drawing from the pristine environments of both its locations, this retreat has crafted a unique wellness tapestry. Here, the mind, body, and soul converge in harmony, creating a symphony of relaxation, detoxification, and rejuvenation. In the serene embrace of Malibu or the majestic allure of the Italian alps, The Ranch offers more than just relaxation—it offers transformation. Every element, from the air you breathe to the food you consume, is woven into a holistic narrative, guiding guests on a profound journey of healing, discovery, and balance.
The Culinary Heartbeat: An Interview with Meredith Haaz – Head Chef
Meredith, the culinary maestro behind The Ranch’s gastronomic delights, brings a decade of experience and passion to the table. With a keen focus on plant-based and organic cooking, she’s reshaping perceptions one plate at a time.
How long have you been with The Ranch, and what’s your role here?
Meredith: I’m the head chef here, and I’ve proudly been part of the company for a decade now. In my role, I’m responsible for crafting and refining our recipe menus. This extends to overseeing other ventures, even traveling to Italy once or twice a year. It’s crucial to ensure that everything aligns with our plant-based and organic principles that define us here at The Ranch
Is the approach the same at both properties or are the menus more tailored to their surroundings?
Meredith: Absolutely. Our aim is to maintain an authentic Italian essence at the property in Italy. We’re committed to embracing the local culture wherever we establish ourselves and integrating elements unique to each area. This involves considering what’s in season and popular in both North and South Italy. When creating menus and collaborating with the team, we always bear in mind this regional influence. This approach remains consistent as we expand to new locations, including our upcoming venture in New York and whatever opportunities lie beyond.
What drew you to work at The Ranch initially?
Meredith: Well, I had been working mostly in hotels for the majority of my culinary career, and I met the person who was the head chef at Malibu. I had never really cooked strictly plant-based before. You know, when we would get vegetarian orders or tickets like that at the hotel, it was always vegetable pasta or very basic vegetarian options.
So when I saw him cooking and was curious, I talked to him. It’s a very different experience here at The Ranch. Our setup is very open. We have a kitchen right next to the dining room. Guests are able to interact, which is unlike traditional cooking setups where the back of the house is separate from the front of the house.
Being able to interact with guests, talk to people, and educate them about plant-based cooking interested me greatly. So, I made the transition and came to The Ranch. It has been an intriguing process, learning more about this cuisine. Although I’m not personally plant-based, which surprises a lot of people, it helps me. I want the food to have a certain taste and not just be ordinary.
Not that simplicity is bad, but I aim for the flavors to be exciting even if the dishes are mostly vegetable-based.
Can you explain how nutrition is so important to ensuring guests are getting the most out of their experience?
Meredith: Absolutely, that’s an integral part of our philosophy here. Nutrition plays a significant role. Our guests are engaging in a lot of physical activities, so ensuring they receive adequate sustenance and replenishment is paramount. We often emphasize the notion that food is essentially fuel.
While it’s undeniably delicious and meant to be savored, our focus here is ensuring you receive precisely what your body requires. This way, you’re fully equipped to participate in all the activities—be it hiking, fitness classes in the afternoon, and more. Nutrition’s substantial role lies in helping you feel energized throughout the day, avoiding any sense of depletion or fatigue.
Our aim isn’t for you to feel incapable of continuing; quite the opposite. We want to ensure you can partake in all the activities and derive immense satisfaction from them.
There’s a stigma around wellness and detox retreats that guests have to starve themselves for the duration of the trip. Can you explain what guests can expect when visiting The Ranch?
Meredith: Our approach involves managing portions thoughtfully. Yes, we do implement some calorie restrictions, but the extent of it varies based on each individual. We always recommend starting on the first day, gauging how you feel. If you require more sustenance or feel the need for adjustments, that’s completely acceptable.
Our core aim is to ensure your well-being throughout your stay. Deprivation is not our intention; quite the opposite. Everyone has their goals, whether it’s weight loss or simply reconnecting with nature and minimizing technology use.
For those focused on weight loss, adhering to the program might not yield immediate results within the short stay. However, it serves as a catalyst for your journey ahead, maintaining a healthy lifestyle at home. Conversely, if weight loss isn’t your objective and you desire more sustenance due to outdoor activities or other reasons, we are more than willing to accommodate that.
Interestingly, many find they’re pleasantly surprised. We advocate listening to your body. Adjusting to three meals a day with two snacks might differ from your usual eating pattern. People often discover how content and satiated they feel, even if not entirely full. Learning to distinguish between satisfaction and fullness is important, as you gear up for activities like a four-hour hike without feeling overly stuffed and lethargic.
Striking this balance between nourishment and activity is key, and we’re here to support you on your journey.
Could you elaborate on how you customize each guest’s meal plan? Do they all follow a similar regimen, or do their plans vary significantly?
Meredith: Certainly. Currently, all our guests are provided with the same meal plan, featuring consistent portion sizes. This approach serves as a starting point, but it is important to note that it can be adjusted as needed. For instance, this week, we have guests who require double portions, while others prefer smaller ones. Some individuals feel content right after a meal but find themselves needing more sustenance a few hours later. For such cases, we offer options like protein smoothies, fruit snacks, and nut-based snacks. Our flexibility is designed to align with each person’s objectives, ensuring their unique needs are met effectively.
What about guests with specific dietary preferences or requirements?
Meredith: Drawing from my experience over the past decade, it’s apparent that everyone has their unique dietary considerations, and that’s perfectly fine. We encounter guests with allergies, such as nut allergies or sensitivities to ingredients like corn or quinoa. Despite our gluten-free focus, we’re adept at finding suitable alternatives for such cases. When guests come with specific dietary needs, we strive to sit down and communicate extensively with them.
Open communication is a hallmark of our kitchen. We’re committed to ensuring that guests never find themselves in a situation where they’re unsure about their meal choices. There’s always a range of options available, and we’re always prepared to cater to our guests’ preferences and requirements, making sure their time here is enjoyable and fulfilling.
The organic farm and the communal dining concept are integral components of The Ranch’s identity. Could you provide our audience with an explanation of these elements and their significance?
Meredith: Yes, absolutely. The communal dining experience holds particular resonance, especially in the US where the pace of life tends to be very fast-paced and on-the-go. People seldom take the time to sit down for a meal anymore. Here at The Ranch, we offer an opportunity to change that. It’s a chance to pause, put away your phones, and savor your food. We actively encourage guests to leave their phones aside during meals, fostering face-to-face interactions. This practice creates a true sense of community.
A diverse range of individuals with various interests, be it health, fitness, or nutrition, converge at The Ranch. This diversity contributes to the vibrant communal atmosphere. Picture a table with 20 people engrossed in conversation, enjoying their meals without distractions like TV or phones. It’s a moment of pure enjoyment and connection. This experience can resonate beyond The Ranch, inspiring guests to incorporate mindful mealtime routines into their daily lives, even if it’s a solitary dinner with family.
Now, turning to the organic garden, it’s about understanding the origins of our food. Guests find it fascinating to stroll through the garden and witness the source of their zucchinis, apples, and peaches for the day. It’s a direct connection to the food they’re about to consume. This experience also reshapes perceptions. When you visit the market and see an apple that’s perfectly shaped and blemish-free, it’s easy to forget that real produce isn’t always flawless. In an organic garden, the appearance might not be perfect, and that’s the beauty of it. No pesticides, no artificial enhancements—just the authentic growth process. Embracing the imperfections becomes a lesson in appreciating genuine, untampered-with nourishment.
Are there any key ingredients that are staples to enhancing the benefits guests can expect at The Ranch?
Meredith: Yes, absolutely. I believe one of our practices is giving guests a comprehensive list of all the recipes they’ve experienced during their stay. It’s a way to extend the culinary journey beyond their time here. Now, while some ingredients might be less familiar, there are specific elements we emphasize. Take nutritional yeast, for instance—a topic that comes up frequently. It might be unfamiliar to some, yet it’s an ingredient rich in B vitamins and imparts a unique umami flavor profile to dishes. This concept often generates intrigue, and we’re delighted to share it.
Nutritional yeast is truly a favorite. When people inquire about the ingredients in a dish, I find myself mentioning nutritional yeast frequently. It’s a flavor enhancer that we hold in high regard. However, the broader theme here is about expanding horizons. Encouraging guests to venture beyond their comfort zones, to be open to trying ingredients they might find unusual or eccentric. Such an approach can significantly enrich their culinary experiences, enabling them to discover new flavors and dimensions.
Could you highlight what sort of benefits guests can expect to feel after a seven-night program at The Ranch?
Meredith: Absolutely. It’s quite common for individuals to be taken aback by outcomes that might not manifest instantaneously. However, a substantial number of people begin to experience increased energy levels, reduced sluggishness, improved sleep quality, and better digestion. These are tangible transformations that often emerge shortly after embarking on our program.
Moreover, we dedicate significant attention to discussing bowel movements at The Ranch. It’s a topic of importance and one we address extensively. Guests frequently notice positive changes in this aspect of their well-being during their stay.
These immediate shifts, such as feeling more energized, less lethargic, and experiencing enhanced sleep quality, resonate profoundly with our guests. Especially when they’ve taken the initiative to follow our 30-day preparation phase, which includes gradually reducing their sugar and caffeine intake. These adjustments can yield remarkable differences, particularly within the context of our seven-day program.
Finally, could you give us a sneak peek into a day’s menu at The Ranch?
Meredith: Today is Thursday. For breakfast this morning, we served a delightful chickpea frittata paired with a tomatillo salsa. Crafted from chickpea flour, this dish bears a resemblance to a quiche and is complemented by our house-made salsa.
As a mid-morning snack, we offered the Be Well bar—a granola bar prepared in-house. Later, as part of their day’s adventure, guests will head to the beach after a morning hike. For this occasion, we’ve prepared a quinoa tabouli, accompanied by hummus and our signature seed crackers. This nourishing lunch will be savored right at the beach.
For dinner, we’re presenting a cauliflower steak entwined with an Esco sauce. The sauce is a blend of roasted peppers and almonds, offering a captivating flavor profile. Accompanying this dish are lentils, creating a harmonious combination of taste and nutrition.
Beyond the Plate – Wellness Programs at The Ranch
Having delved into Meredith’s culinary expertise and the philosophy behind The Ranch’s nourishment, let’s dive into the programmes available with Health Travel:
Experience the pristine beauty of Italy’s countryside while diving deep into holistic wellness. Combine invigorating hikes through the Apennine mountains with Palazzo Fiuggi’s cutting-edge medical guidance. This retreat promises rejuvenation amidst Italy’s serene landscapes.
Immerse in luxury at The Ranch Malibu, nestled within 200 acres of the Santa Monica Mountains. From invigorating hikes and tailored fitness classes to plant-based culinary delights, this retreat is a haven for holistic well-being.
Tailored for the discerning traveler, this retreat offers a blend of group hikes, fitness sessions, and rejuvenating spa treatments. With a focus on personalized wellness, enjoy a technology-detox in the heart of nature.
The Ranch, with its dual offerings in Italy and Malibu, stands as a beacon for those seeking more than just a holiday. It promises a journey – of wellness, self-discovery, and culinary delights that linger not just on the palate but in memories.