Vegan chef brings plant-based dishes to Mexico resort

PUNTA MITA, MEXICO—For vegans, celebrity chef and healthy living educator Leslie Durso is somewhat of a guru. She has appeared on such television networks as Food Network, Discovery Channel and Everyday Health, and has written for a number of magazines, including Redbook, Glamour and Maxim.

The former New York City and Hollywood private chef has made her foray into the hospitality industry partnering with Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita, the recently renovated resort located on 400 acres of beachfront property here on the west coast of Mexico. The partnership calls for Durso to create plant-based meals for three of the resort’s dining establishments. In total, she has created 25 dishes—including appetizers, soups, salads, entrées and desserts—for the hotel’s Aramara, Bahia by Richard Sandoval and Ketsi restaurants.

“We had offered vegetarian dishes in the past, though not strictly vegan. However, with more and more people looking for true vegan options, we wanted to offer menus that met this need with exceptional dishes created by a chef that specializes in this cuisine,” said John O’Sullivan, the resort’s general manager, who added that Durso was the right fit because she “shares our commitment to high-quality ingredients and brings a fresh take on vegan dishes that we knew would complement our current culinary offerings and appeal to our guests. In addition, her spirit of partnership and commitment to training our employees made her a perfect partner for Four Seasons.”

According to Durso, what attracted her to Four Seasons was the fact that “we both prioritize health and wellness in our brands. They are the ultimate destination for rejuvenation, and healthy food options are an important part of that.”

For meat eaters, choosing a vegan option is a rare, if not inconceivable, occurrence. Durso would like to change that way of thinking.

“I believe that health begins with your food choices. Whether you decide to eat plant-based full time or part time, you can feel the benefits almost immediately of eating nutrient-dense foods,” she said. “My job as a plant-based chef is to make the healthiest foods on earth taste really delicious and leave you completely satisfied while feeling great.”

The three restaurants at Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita—which also features 177 casita-style guestrooms, 50 villas, the newly reimagined Apuane Spa and two Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses—offer distinct menus, so Durso had to create dishes that would work within their themes. According to the resort, Aramara blends Asian influences with a taste of Mexico; Bahia by Richard Sandoval is the resort’s contemporary seafood-centric grill located on Las Cuevas beach; and Ketsi is the casual, all-day dining restaurant. 

“With three very different restaurants on property, I focused on creating menu items that would seamlessly integrate into the current offerings. I used familiar flavors and ingredients, prepared in unique ways, to create dishes that are both familiar and inventive,” she said. 

“Creating dishes that focus on local ingredients was also very important,” Durso added. “Mexico grows some of the most beautiful produce in the world, and it was so fun to create with it. One of my favorite menu items is the jaca carnitas. Jackfruit grows wild in and around the property, so it was only natural to want to use it. I decided on the traditional carnitas preparation to make some truly unique tacos.”

Among the dishes Durso has created are cauliflower tacos; jackfruit enchiladas with molé; avocado tomato toast; and cashew nacho cheese with plantain chips. Menu items are changed seasonally.

During the process of creating the dishes, Durso had to work closely with the chefs at the resort. It was an experience that she enjoyed. “The chefs at Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita are incredibly talented,” she said. “We had some funny moments when we first started working together. One of my favorite moments was explaining using aquafaba—the water from a can of chickpeas—to make mayonnaise. As soon as they saw it done, they were into it.”

O’Sullivan pointed out the response to the new menu items has been “exceptional,” and added, “Interestingly enough, due to the excellent quality of her recipes, many of the items she designed for us are among our most popular dishes, whether the guest is vegan or not.” 

Durso remains busy as she continues to spread the word about the benefits of a plant-based diet. “I have recently partnered with Plantlab Culinary School to create plant-based courses for them,” she noted. “I’m so excited to be able to teach my courses online and in person all over the world.” HB