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Cuisine worth moving for

Executive chef pledges five-star hospitality

Created date

September 23rd, 2014
two chefs working in a kitchen

How important is cuisine at at PGA National? Here’s a clue: Its new executive chef came to his position after 14 years at The Breakers Palm Beach.

As head of the culinary department at Erickson Living’s retirement community in Palm Beach Gardens, Chef Neeraj Mahani manages Devonshire’s largest department—five restaurants and a team of 60-plus employees, including 25 chefs and 5 kitchen stewards.

“At Devonshire, we serve the crème de la crème, people who’ve been used to the best throughout their lives,” he says. “I want to continue that tradition. I want food to be a reason people move here.”

Family influence

Mahani grew up in India in a home where cooking was as much art and attention to detail as it was science and experience. “Flavor and food was a big deal in the day-to-day life of my family,” he says.

He earned his culinary stripes at India’s acclaimed Taj Mahal Hotel in New Delhi, came to The Breakers Palm Beach as an international (culinary) associate, and rose to area chef. Because he’d so enjoyed his years at The Breakers, he did some research before applying at Devonshire.

“I was very choosy about the company I’d be joining,” he says. “A lot of companies make lots of money but compromise very much on their culture. I liked what I learned about Erickson Living. Its culture [of excellence] was a perfect match for me.”

Mahani aims to deliver a world-class culinary experience to each of his Devonshire guests. “I’m striving for the highest level of hospitality,” he says, “so I don’t call them residents; they’re my guests.” 

Equally passionate about cooking and team development, he’s attracted talented people and relies on their strengths. If they have weaknesses, he focuses on transforming those into additional strengths.

“I raise the bar every day,” he says. “The idea is to develop more leaders. I’m passing on the torch.”

At The Breakers, every cook tasted every dish. That’s now the rule at Devonshire, too. Mahani buys cases of tasting spoons. Cooks taste four or five times during preparation and also taste their finished product. He values their opinions.

Discerning palates

He also seeks diners’ opinions. “One table might love a dish; the next might hate it,” he says. “The fun part is they tell you exactly how they feel, and they remind me I can’t cook like their grandmothers.”

Comfort foods and campus favorites will always remain on Devonshire’s menus, but its kitchen has compromised on salt. Cooks use the minimum required to bring out flavor, and a saltshaker sits on every table.

“My vision is to bring my guests a healthy life through food by using local, sustainable, and seasonal ingredients,” says Mahani. “Seniors deserve the same quality of food and service they had when they were younger. It’s not about me. It’s about their satisfaction.”