My Incredible Interview with the Expert Nutritionist Behind the Luxurious COMO Hotels

Healthy Q&A's
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I have been fortunate to visit a few of the COMO properties and each of them have blown me away with their health inspired menus. I thought, Finally, a hotel group that focus on wellbeing and holistic nutrition, that believes you should leave their destination feeling your best self!

It is just so incredible for me to be able to go away on vacation and feel confident the hotel can accommodate my nutritional needs. But most importantly – it is an amazing thing to leave a vacation feeling better than when you got there!

You leave the COMO properties bursting with energy and vibrance – and the food has a big role in this!

 

I recently sat down with the incredible Eve Persak at COMO Shambhala in Bali – the inspiring and intelligent nutritionist who is responsible for creating the highest quality food items on each menu. You look at that menu – and you can immediately tell how much nutritional thought and care has gone into each meal.

 

Loved speaking to Eve – you can read all her answers below!

 

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  1. What is your food philosophy?

 

My food philosophy is that each person must develop his or her own food philosophy – it’s just not about me.

People often inquire about what I do or don’t eat, but my dietary needs or preferences shouldn’t guide yours.  Sure, we might be similar in some ways.  However, the exact constellation of variables that my body must negotiate each day is different than yours and anyone else’s.

My role as a private nutritionist is to learn everything about the bodies, lifestyles, and usual eating behaviors of each of my clients – their medical concerns, digestive patterns, activity and stress levels, sleep habits, budgets, taste buds, culinary skills.

I then draw upon my years of education and professional experience and support my client in developing a plan that integrates and honours every unique aspect of them.

Our relationship with food and our bodies is complex, intimate and ever-changing.  I always feel fortunate to connect with people on this level and share in this lifelong journey.

 

  1. What inspired you to become a nutritionist? 

 

Sport and physical activity was a large part of my childhood.  I began participating longer-endurance events early on in my teenage years.   Athletes have the challenge – and benefit – of “immediate karma” with nutrition.  We learn quickly that if we don’t eat well, we don’t perform well in training sessions and competitions or recover well afterwards.  It’s quick, visible and tangible accountability, and it’s highly motivating.

 

In college, I began as a student of Sports Medicine.  However, I soon realized I was far more interested in what happens inside the body (our internal biochemistry and metabolism) than outside (the external physics and mechanics of our movements).  I attend my first nutrition class and fell in love.  Pursing nutrition was one of the best decisions of my life. Since then, this profession has allowed me to work in amazing places – intensive care units of leading hospitals, HIV orphanages in remote African villages, Special Olympics and Ironman competitions, Michelin star restaurants, global award winning spas and resorts.  The options are endless, and I’m so excited for what’s next.

 

  1. Talk us through a typical week with COMO for you…

 

I wear a couple of different hats in my work with the COMO brand, so I’m often juggling a handful of projects.  If I look back at this past week…

For the COMO Shambhala Urban Escape wellness centre in Singapore, I’ve delivered a lecture on Nutrition for Success for a corporate group, held private one-to-one nutrition consultations, worked on the planning for a new holistic wellness package due to launch in early 2017, and held a few interviews for my new Kitchen Edit service.  For SuperNature (Club21’s organic and natural product retailer in Singapore) I’ve reviewed and vetted a number of supplement and specialty products, written a monthly online column, and offered advice for their upcoming newsletter.  I’m also working with COMO Cuisine’s Head Chef Tim deSouza on the offerings at SuperNature’s café and COMO’s other upcoming Singapore venues.   With COMO Hotels & Resorts, I’m working with our global executive chef Daniel Moran to prepare for our cookbook promotional event in NYC next month.  It’s busy!

 

  1. What is your process when it comes to creating new recipes and dishes for the visitors at COMO?

 

Nutrition is often an afterthought.  Restaurants, hotels, and even food manufacturers may pull me in during the later stages of recipe or menu development to assist with the nutritional analysis or marketing.  With COMO, I’m fortunate to be included in the process – thanks entirely to Mrs. Christina Ong, the brand’s owner and founder.  Nutrition is – and has been – a priority for her.   She herself is involved and encourages the participation of nutritionists (myself and those before me) from the outset.  Rather than begrudgingly cracking open the kitchen doors (as is frequently the case), COMO’s team of chefs invite me in and make me feel welcome.  They ask for my input and even request that I’m included in projects and events.  They are amongst the most brilliant and talented culinary minds I’ve encountered, so I take this as the highest compliment.

 

I find that the wellness cuisine available – in casual eateries and fine-dining establishments alike – can be a bit predictable and repetitive.  Most will highlight dishes that suit special diets or feature of few of the latest trends and super-foods.  However the ingredient choices seem random and an underlying purpose is often missing.  Any ideas that I offer usually come from a therapeutic place.  I’m often inspired by people – my private clients, family members or friends whose bodies might benefit from a certain combination of ingredients or preparation methods.  Sometimes I hone in on a specific organ system or certain health condition.   Otherwise, it’s entirely in the hands of the chefs.  They are the masterminds behind how each dish ultimately tastes.  Without them, any nutrition input I might provide falls flat.  I’m amazed over and over again by their creativity with flavor and texture and their meticulousness with freshness and presentation.

 

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  1. How have you been inspired the Balinese cuisine? 

 

Bali is such a lush verdant place.  Fresh fruits and vegetables abound. The kitchen and pantry doors may as well be wide open and extend down into the jungle alongside each of our restaurants.  Here it is entirely possible to ‘eat from the earth’ and the Balinese cuisine does just that.  Everything is used – from the tips of fern trees to every single part of the coconut – its water, milk, and young or mature flesh, even it’s shell as a bowl for serving or decoration.

 

I’ve also been inspired – perhaps ‘surprised’ is a better word – by the heat of the cuisine.  When I first arrived, my palate was shocked by the spiciness of many of the dishes.  Many a tear was shed at the table.  Over time my mouth has grown more accustomed to a bit of chili.  And the chefs with whom I’ve worked here in Bali have helped me to appreciate how heat – when used in just the right amount – can enhance and elevate the other flavours in a dish.

 

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  1. What are some of the foods people should absolutely be avoiding?

 

I prefer to be entirely bespoke with my nutrition recommendations, as everyone’s ‘include’ and ‘exclude’ lists are different.  But those that offer the least benefits (and may potentially do harm) are the ‘usual suspects’:

 

  • Heavily processed food products – the natural goodness of the whole, original ingredients are diluted or removed and anything added is usually problematic
  • Artificial sweeteners, colors, preservatives, flavorings
  • Trans-fats
  • Refined grains
  • Added sugars & HFCS – only Mother Nature should sweeten our food

 

Interestingly, the cuisine that COMO serves naturally avoids most of the aforementioned items.  COMO has done so for the past two decades – again, a credit to the forward-thinking of Mrs. Christina Ong.  The ingredients in our pantries and chillers are whole and intact.  There aren’t many boxes or packages.  Any manipulation happens here with us, by our chefs with their hands and tools.  They use more traditional cooking methods – soaking, dehydrating, sprouting, fermenting – to develop flavor but also to best unlock the nutritional benefits.  Our chefs are committed to sourcing fresh, organic, local and sustainable ingredients as well.

 

 

  1. Is there a specific way of eating or tips you always recommend for the people who come to COMO?

 

At COMO Shambhala Estate in Bali, the consultants are completely customized with their nutrition recommendations for Wellness Programme guests.  They assess the guests’ current health status, concerns and goals, and provide tailored supportive meal plans for use throughout their stay.  Nancy Kim, the Estate’s Oriental Medicine expert and holistic nutritionist, is able to provide therapeutic herbs and acupuncture treatments to complement her dietary prescriptions.  This bespoke approach offers the safest and most effective experience for the guest.  Guests see and feel results and are then motivated to continue these changes after departure.

 

Outside of the Estate – at any and all of COMO’s global destinations – my favorite tip is, “Personalize.” Our clientele is global and often quite particular.  As such, our chefs and kitchen teams are prepared, knowledgeable and invested in satisfying their diverse needs.  We are able and happy to modify recipes or develop entirely new dishes for guests with special dietary requests – whether due to religious or ethical beliefs, necessity (medical diets or food intolerances), or simply palatial preference. When staying at one of our hotels and resorts, we would want you to feel at home.  Please let us know how we can best take care of you, nutritionally and otherwise.

 

I also have to remind others – and myself – to pay attention to hunger and fullness.  Dining with COMO is a lovely sensory experience.  When every bite is a pleasure, it’s easy to lose track of how many bites you’ve had.   So, eat slowly and savor each and every flavor.  But do stay in touch with your body and set your utensils down when it’s time.

 

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  1. Describe the cuisine at COMO in three words:

 

Intentional – There is purpose to each element on the plate.

Integrative – The cuisine aims capture the diverse elements of the COMO brand – wellness, sustainability, luxury, style, global travel.

Inspiring – After visiting one of our destinations, guest often wish to prepare their favorite recipes at home.  Our newly released cookbook makes that possible.

 

  1. What is your one diet tip for people who want to embrace the Healthy Life?

 

LISTEN to your body. Our bodies talk to us all the time.  If nourishment is poor or out of balance, we get cues from our eyes, skin, hair, nails, digestive system, body weight, appetite, joints, and sleep patterns.

 

Unfortunately it’s becoming more and more challenging to hear our bodies over all of the background noise from social media channels, magazines, television, diet books, health food stores, family and friends.

 

Nutrition information has never been so prolific and accessible.

It’s common for people to look around, collect diet tips or products, and try them on for size, but then feel disheartened when what’s ‘trending’ or working wonders for others doesn’t seem to fit.

 

Instead, shift your focus from outward to inward.  Pay attention to yourself first.  Listen to your body’s messages and then learn what they mean and how best to respond.  If you need help, align with an expert to filter fact from fiction and pinpoint approaches that suit your unique circumstances. Only you can hear and experience your body, so your nutrition should start with you.

 

Eve Persak MS RD CSNC CSSD is an international nutrition & wellness consultant.  She is the Nutrition Advisor for COMO Hotels & Resorts, COMO Cuisine, and Club21’s SuperNature organic and natural product retailer.  Her private nutrition consultations are available at COMO Shambhala Urban Escape, Singapore.

For more information on the amazing COMO Shambhala Estate, click here

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