Maybe it’s the Miami sun. Maybe it’s his experimental month of green smoothie consumption. But Chef Mark Zeitouni is bafflingly unflappable in what some might consider a chef’s logistical nightmare: a tourist-based restaurant churning out diet-sensitive cuisine for up to 800 covers at a time, from a bare-bones outdoor kitchen, forever at the mercy of South Floridian Mother Nature. And yet, with nothing more than a panini press, a grill, and two refrigerators, Zeitouni and his tiny team (up to four cooks at any given time) create cuisine that not only satisfies the hotel’s bikini- and board shorts-clad guests, but carries through the “integral living mission” of The Standard Miami, envisioned by Hotelier and luxury guru André Balazs.
And it’s no surprise. Like any chef who does his job really, really well, Zeitouni takes it very personally. “One thing I really thought a lot about,” he says, “one of the reasons I became a ‘spa chef,’ is the interaction between how food tastes when you eat and how you feel shortly after.” And Zeitouni has plenty of post-prandial experience to draw upon. “Take [eating a] high-end French food, a big tasting menu,” he offers. “I’m out of commission for a few hours. So I started analyzing ‘How come I go out and eat sushi and feel elated, and then I eat certain meals and I’m feeling tired?’”
But Zeitouni’s not creating energy drinks or power lunches. He’s taking fresh product, preparing it efficiently (very often, it’s a Spartan-simple kiss on the restaurant’s one grill, followed by some olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt), and serving it to the diner immediately—“in my eyes, it goes to the guest within 30 seconds.” Sure, he has to accommodate a variety of dietary restrictions; but Zeitouni does it with a chef’s creativity and curiosity. His Raw Vegan Living Lasagna—the end result of a vegan pizza that proved too hard to expedite short of operating 10 dehydrators to make vegan “dough” and basically running them all day—combines a nut-vegetable sausage with fresh zucchini, squash, eggplant, and raw tomato sauce for a dish that delights vegans and non-vegans alike.
For Zeitouni, who looks tan and happy in his Standard chef whites, it’s all about how a guest, with all of his or her dietary and physical idiosyncrasies, feels at the end of the stay. “We really try to work with the guest,” he says, “for the experience they’re trying to have.” Working out of The Standard, where luxury and rest are sublimated into wellness and rejuvenation, Zeitouni has the ideal platform for his role in the theater of “holistic hospitality.” If only it doesn’t rain.