If a weekend spent learning from experts while luxuriating in beautiful, serene surroundings sounds like heaven, then read on. Recently, the Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes invited me to attend their inaugural Curated Experiences at Grande Lakes Weekend. And I assure you, it was time well spent.
The good news? You haven’t missed out.
The resort plans to make these special weekends regular events. Mark your calendar for the next Curated Experiences Weekend, taking place April 23-25.
So what are Curated Experiences Weekends?
During these special weekends, the Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes, along with its sister property, the JW Marriott Grande Lakes, offer a wide range of hands-on classes, demonstrations, tours and talks with experts across a myriad of fields.
While the initial event offered a weekend-full of events for one price, the April Curated Experiences at Grande Lakes is expanded to offer more ticketing options.
Guests can choose from four different tickets:
- $750 per person for the entire weekend experience
- $600 per person for all of the Saturday events including Four Curated Experiences + Wine Pairing Dinner
- $300 per person for Four Curated Experiences only Saturday morning through afternoon
- $300 per person for Wine Pairing Dinner only Saturday evening
And there are so many events to choose from! Learn about the art of pastry, or how to create the perfect brunch cocktail. Spend the afternoon with Chef John Tesar discovering the secrets of dry aging prime beef, or try your hand at creating your own pasta and pizza in an Italian Cooking demonstration. Not interested in kitchen pursuits? Experience all that Grande Lakes has to offer with morning yoga, take a tennis clinic, or discover the secrets of fly casting with Captain Mark Benson. Explore Whisper Creek Farm—or learn about spring’s hottest shopping trends. It’s all up to you.
And because you can choose from different “levels” of tickets, you could even pair your curated experiences with a round of golf or time at the spa. It’s all up to you.
Since food is nearly always top of mind for me ;-), I indulged in all things culinary. Follow along as I share some glimpses into my own Curated Experiences Weekend.
Friday Night Reception
Our getaway began with a welcoming reception under the stars on Grande Lakes’ DaVinci Lawn. As the sun set on a perfect evening, guests visited a plethora of food and beverage stations offering small plates and full-sized cocktails. The menu included truly enticing options.
The Grande Lakes’ culinary staff spared no effort in making each plate special. Bites from this round included a Peking Duck Bao, Satay, and the Doc Holliday, one of Highball & Harvest’s signature sips.
For wine lovers, one of the biggest treats of the reception—and of the weekend, in fact—were opportunities to indulge in wines by Quintessa, including Leviathan, a red blend, and Illumination Sauvignon Blanc.
But food only represented half the fun. We were also treated to a dizzying array of luxury sports cars.
With experts on hand to guide us, we learned about McLaren, creators of some of the world’s most expensive sports cars. A fleet of Aston Martins were also available for dream-planning. I spotted an SUV that I feel sure would be the perfect car for my family of four.
Primo Italian Cooking Demonstration
On Saturday, we began our day with an Italian Cooking Demonstration. We weren’t sure what to expect, but when we arrived, we were handed a mimosa—and an apron! It turned out that our morning adventures would be decidedly hands-on. And we were thrilled about it.
Over the course of the next couple of hours, the excellent chefs of Primo shared tips and tricks for making perfect pizzas, tantalizingly tender gnocchi and pillows of agnolotti, little stuffed pastas that are similar to ravioli.
Throughout the morning, we had the chance to try the demonstrated dishes. (During April’s Curated Experiences weekends, lunch will be included in some of the seminars.)
Dry Aging Demo
The 86-acre California ranch is known for its sustainably raised and sourced fish. But Passmore also produces some of the world’s best small batch caviar, which was on full offer at several of the weekend’s events.
During a thoroughly enjoyable talk, Chef John shared the story of how he came to discover his method of dry aging beef, and how he partners with 44 Farms in Texas to bring the best beef to the tables of his restaurants.
One fascinating tidbit that we learned from Chef John is that he prefers to pair dry-aged beef with a crisp white wine, like an Italian white, to accentuate the complexity of the meat’s flavors.
We also learned that another flavor pairs fabulously with the meat: dollops of caviar!
It was truly an indulgent way to spend the afternoon.
Whisper Creek Farms Tour
After tasting our way through delicacies at Knife & Spoon, it was time to stretch our legs a bit at Whisper Creek Farms, Grande Lakes’ on-site farm. Located just a stone’s throw from the resort, it’s a beautiful patch of ground where the resort’s chefs can harvest local produce to round out their menus.
As we strolled through the garden, our chef guide invited us to break off bits of some of the plants in order to experience their flavors for ourselves.
There’s also an apiary on site that produces honey for the property.
Of course, the chefs who were showing us around weren’t going to let us go hungry.
We enjoyed small plates enhanced by local produce as well as greens and herbs from the Whisper Creek garden.
A Dinner to Remember
While some of our friends enjoyed a putting demonstration, we made our way back to our room to rest for a little while and dress for the evening’s events, which included a very special dinner and a private concert.
Once again, the full spectrum of talent at Grande Lakes was on display. This is truly one of the best culinary destinations in all of Central Florida, and if you haven’t taken the time to dine at one of the resort’s restaurants before, I urge you to do so as soon as possible.
Five Splendid Courses
For our special dinner, we were treated to five luxurious courses with wine parings by Quintessa. The meal began with a delicate Foie Gras Mousse topped with caramel popcorn and shaved truffle. Heavenly.
Next, we moved on to a plate of Smoked Sturgeon, served over chilled celery root puree and topped with caviar and salmon roe. The silky textures and subtle flavors paired together perfectly.
We then moved onto my favorite dish of the night, Lobster Agnolotti. (How fun was it that I learned to make this earlier in the day?) The combination of butter poached lobster and Lobster Coral Passmore Roe was truly incredible. I’m officially casting my vote for this dish to join the Knife & Spoon menu.
Our main course offered a creative take on familiar flavors: The Smoked Pastrami Beef Short Rib sat atop a rich bed of Swiss Cheese Fondue. Apple Celery Slaw provided a crunchy, tangy counterpoint to the decadence of the dish.
Chef Franck Steigerwald offered a sumptuous sweet ending, as we tucked into a Dulcey Petit Gateau served alongside a velvety Bourbon Caramel Ice Cream.
Post-meal, it was time to put our dancing shoes on, as entertainer extraordinaire (and Orlando native) Joey Fatone took the stage for a mini-set of his greatest NSYNC hits, with some surprises along the way.
It was the perfect way to end the evening, dancing under the stars and singing along.
Do you deserve this getaway?
After a year-plus of patience as we navigated a global pandemic, this is the vacation that you didn’t know you needed.
A Curated Experiences weekend truly offers it all:
Want to learn a new skill? No problem.
Indulge in incredible food? Absolutely.
Shop until you drop? Do yoga and sip on mimosas? Learn about wine, whiskey, gardening, tennis, falconry, fly fishing, and more? Yes, yes and yes.
This is truly a chance-of-a-lifetime getaway, packaged compactly into a weekend. Go for it.
To learn more and to book, visit the Curated Experiences at Grande Lakes website.