Many restaurants advertise a farm-to-table philosophy, but few have a farm on the premises. At Shangri-La Springs in downtown Bonita, the five-acre garden is certified organic by the USDA. It has evolved over the past three or four decades and now contains perennial greens, vegetables, citrus, legumes, three beehives, and mango trees planted in the 1970s. The garden was one of the main reasons David Robbins signed on as chef de cuisine last year.
“I grew up on a small organic family farm in Hawaii, long before it became a hot trend,” he says. “When I looked at Shangri-La Springs, it reminded me of my childhood.”
The homegrown produce finds its way directly onto the menus of Harvest & Wisdom, the property’s on-site restaurant. Members of the culinary team are encouraged to join Cecelia Morales, the garden manager, and get their hands dirty. Having the plot available encourages the kitchen to experiment and plan ahead: They can work six to nine months in advance and plant what they think they’ll need for the coming seasons.
Originally built as a hotel in 1921, Shangri-La Springs is now a wellness complex encompassing a fitness studio, an organic spa with six treatment rooms, and event and wedding venues. Last October, the facility was officially designated as a Blue Zones Project–recognized organization. The boutique hotel rooms are currently being renovated with an eye toward making the property a self-contained destination.
On the restaurant side, Robbins’ ultimate goal is to transform Shangri-La Springs into a Southwest Florida version of New York’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns, a lauded restaurant that culls ingredients from its own farm and other area purveyors. Toward that end, Harvest & Wisdom has begun to assemble a list of organic, biodynamic and/or sustainable wines from some of the world’s top boutique producers. While Robbins is aware that it took chef Dan Barber 10 years to achieve his dream at Blue Hill, the process doesn’t discourage him.
“Our ethos with food is simple,” says Robbins. “It’s not about labels, but about doing the right thing—using the ingredients at hand to produce food that is clean, fresh, healthy, and delicious.”