Sometimes What's Old is New Again

By Mathias Gervais Executive Chef, The Setai, Miami Beach | August 21, 2016

Sometimes new is old, and old is new. In time for the 2015/2016 Miami Beach season we, together with our new Ownership, launched Jaya, a modern Asian cuisine restaurant whose concept was made to be a true departure from a traditional luxury hotel restaurant. Jaya, which means 'victory' in Sanskrit, was chosen by our team to honor The Setai Miami Beach's renowned interior designer Jaya Ibrahim and the hotel's first decade of successful Asian-inspired hospitality. My sous chef, Vijay Veena, and I collaborated to create dishes that much like the Hotel, did not focus on just one Asian country but featured cuisine from a number of Asian regions. Drawing inspiration from Thailand, Korea, India, China and Japan we were able to also guarantee authenticity by incorporating many traditional culinary techniques from wok stations to tandoor ovens and had them installed in our performance kitchen. One can see when entering the restaurant space, tools and spices from the many regions actively being used including spice jars of turmeric, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, chilies and tamarind.

This performance kitchen space not only reinforces the authenticity of the dining experience, but the commitment to creating a space which was welcoming and encouraging for our guests.

Prior to opening Jaya we spent months surveying the fine dining scene in an effort to offer our guests and locals only the finest, most innovative cuisine in a setting that has received worldwide acclaim. From a strategic standpoint, we carefully observed the competitive hospitality landscape on South Beach as it continued to take shape. We realized that we were not only eager to return to our original roots when launching Jaya; but that it also made sense from a business perspective. Additionally, since we are a Hotel that is always considering and in tune with our guests' tastes, demands and requests, we clearly noticed that after a brief interlude as a French dining concept, time and time again we were being asked for our Asian classics such as our Peking Duck and Dim Sums. Our guests asked and we delivered.

Eventually, the concept for Jaya was finalized. In keeping with the hotel's theme of Asian-inspired hospitality, food is the key thread in the fabric of Asian life and how people socialize. As such, Jaya follows this tradition by serving dishes in a style to be shared in an inviting atmosphere paired with the sophistication and hospitality for which The Setai, Miami Beach is renowned. Family-style dining creates a fun, welcoming, enjoyable and energetic atmosphere without sacrificing the exceptional quality and service that is expected of a fine dining experience.

But in several instances, Jaya is quite a departure from the Hotel's previous concepts in a number of ways. For one, dishes at Jaya are served family-style, as they are in many Asian cultures. Additionally, Jaya offers a lower price point than had previously been available at The Setai's restaurants. The menu also includes a number of vegetarian dishes. Lastly, tastings can be created and customized to diners' specific requirements and desires.

Jaya has also differentiated itself by lowering prices. By offering a lower price point than typically found at a restaurant in a hotel of The Setai's caliber we were able to show our Hotel guests that we are serious about our cuisine and our restaurant's ability to stand alone as a dining destination. The outdated thought process that fine dining needs to be expensive has been replaced with exquisite cuisine at a price that more people can afford. Guests' expectations have not been lowered but their demand for an affordable restaurant with quality product has certainly increased. By lowering the price point we were able to see an immediate increase in cover count. While in the past hotel guests only dined once during their stay, we now see guests dining multiple times over the course of their stay and leaving far more satisfied. Additionally, we see Miami Beach locals dining at Jaya on a regular basis; the lower price point and more relaxed atmosphere has made the restaurant a dining destination for tourists and locals alike.

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The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.