Clever, intrepid, modern Clara Livingstone came to Dorado Beach, Puerto Rico in the 1920s with her father. When he died, she took over the property and ran it for the next 20 years.
She also built an airstrip so she could land her planes and helicopters. She was the 200th licensed female pilot and 11th helicopter pilot in the world. Not surprisingly, Amelia Earhart was a good (very good, apparently) friend, and took off from that airstrip, never to be seen again.
Clara sold the property to Laurance Rockefeller who would go on to create what was probably one of the earliest eco-resorts — ahead of its time — and would stay true to his rule of thumb, “no building should be higher than a palm tree.”
As I sit on this immaculate beach, on the edge of the resort’s 1400 acres under a cloudless blue sky, I am looking at the rock (…efeller) barrier that he constructed which tempers the big waves rolling at me now and I am reminded of his vision.
While I would come to The Dorado Beach, the newly renovated Ritz-Carlton Reserve (one of only three), at the drop of a hat, this weekend was particularly compelling as it honored José Andrés. I know you know who he is, but to remind, he is the famed Spanish chef who is credited with creating the small plate concept of dining and who presides over an empire of restaurants, including barmini in D.C., Mercado Little Spain in Hudson Yards and Somni in L.A.
More significantly he feeds disaster victims around the world through his World Central Kitchen. It launched after the earthquakes in Haiti, and served over more than two million meals after Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Encountering obstacles from FEMA and other government agencies, he organized a grassroots group of chefs and volunteers and “just started cooking.”
He recounted his experience in the book We Fed An Island: The True Story of Rebuilding and Island, One Meal at a Time. Not surprisingly, he is God-like here, and with his sparkling blue eyes and flowing white beard, he is indeed Thor-like, with a spatula instead of a hammer.
We visited the farm he founded here and learned how he has taught local farmers better means of organization, transport, and communication. We had a taste of lemon pops, an exciting little plant that sizzled our lips and would sure pack a punch in a cocktail. We nuzzled bunnies, stroked goats and realized we don’t have an agri career in our future when we figured out these sweet animals aren’t just a petting zoo.
On the way back we stopped at his favorite food shack — Chicken Fever — a name that most New York City branding companies would reject. Majorelle it ain’t, but damned delicious.
Part of the food orgy featured José’s great pals, Chef Ludo Lefebvre (LA’s Petite Trois and Trois Mec) and Tyler Florence (chef and Food Network star) who conducted food demos and whipped up an out-of-this-world dinner for us last Saturday. Foie with piña colada soup, sweet corn agnolotti with California uni and truffles, complimented by Rudd wines, and more masterpieces by Dorado’s pastry chef, Jeffrey Munchel.
Actress and killer singer Jill Hennessy borrowed a guitar from the house band and sang a song she wrote about her beloved immigrant grandmother, who spoke no English but taught so much, followed by a sing-along to “Rocketman.” Then a few lucky folks who ducked into the bar for some tequila (drinking does pay) got to hear Jimmy Fallon, who was staying in Su Casa the dazzling Livingstone villa, recently redesigned by Champalimaud. Jill and José Andrés joined in, and together they belted out La Bamba with the startled and thrilled house band.
Benjamin Bratt and his beautiful wife Talitha and kids made a return visit. I loved the story about his last trip here, when Helena Christianson walked into his room by mistake — easy to do as the rooms are smack on the beach and look alike from there — and found him plum naked. Lucky Helena.
I had the same experience when a friendly fellow on his phone, marched into mine. “I’m so sorry! I’m on the phone with my mother!” he said. I guess to assuage my fear he was menacing. “I get my sense of direction from her!”
Cute but no nudity here. Actress Jennifer Esposito was here with her boyfriend, Jesper Vesterstrom, a Danish Olympic wind surfer who happened to run into his Olympic coach on a bike path. You can’t make this stuff up. And lovely actress Zosia Mamet and her also thespian hubby Evan Jonigkeit joined and charmed.
I saved my visit to their legendary Spa Botánico for the end, and it was a blissful, tranquil way to exit. After wandering the five acres, watching a pineapple grow (who knew they sprouted in the middle of a wreath of leaves?) dipping in the variously heated-or-not pools and bucket showers, I travelled up into the ‘treehouse’ for 90 minutes of a life altering massage, surrounding by tweeting birds and croaking frogs and a gentle breeze infused with the garden’s breath.
We learned on this trip that under General Manager George Sotelo’s leadership, Dorado Beach had just been voted the #1 hotel in the Caribbean, and #14 in the world, by Condé Nast Traveller. I concur.