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Project focus: Lefay Resort Dolomites, Italy

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Alexander Hofer FCSI tells Elly Earls about returning to work with Lefay Resort 10 years after he was the equipment dealer for the group’s hotel in Lake Garda

A decade after the Leali family opened their first Lefay resort on the shore of Italy’s majestic Lake Garda, they decided they were ready to go through the whole process again. Only this time, the property would be set against the backdrop of the Dolomite mountain range. And with guests likely to spend most of their time on the slopes during the day, the evening foodservice offer would arguably be even more important than it was the first time around.

When the Lefay Resort Dolomiti opened in August 2019, it was with one main restaurant – Dolomia – an all-day dining concept offering a buffet breakfast for up to 180 guests and beautiful à la carte menus for lunch and dinner. Large windows overlook the surrounding mountain scenery and the dishes bring together traditions and produce from the region reinterpreted in a contemporary way. Game and freshwater fish feature on the menu and, just like at the Lago di Garda property, guests can expect fresh, forthright flavours and aromas.

The resort is also home to a warm and cosy lounge bar, offering cocktails and international liqueurs, an outdoor sky lounge in the midst of the surrounding peaks complete with a roaring fire, and a pool bar. Shortly, they will be joined by Grual organic restaurant, a much more intimate affair than Dolomia, with a focus on ethically sourced products.

According to the Lefay team, the group’s culinary philosophy has evolved in line with global trends. Over the years it has moved more towards sustainability, from choice of suppliers to production processes, with the goal of raising their guests’ awareness of the importance of a balanced, healthy and responsible diet.

“Lefay Resorts has always been a pioneer in its field and has always pursued a foodservice model that has proved to be increasingly shared by other properties all over the world,” it says.

Coming full circle

Alexander Hofer FCSI, founder of South Tyrol-based foodservice consultancy H44 Team was entrusted with the planning of all the kitchens for the project, as well as delivery areas, laundry, lobby bar and ceiling ventilation.

For him, it was almost like coming full circle. He’d worked as the equipment dealer for the Lefay Resort Lago di Garda 10 years before. Now he had responsibility for the entire concept – from Grual’s gourmet kitchen to the open-plan show kitchen in Dolomia, as well as the staff restaurant, the room service area, the patisserie and the pool bar kitchen.

“Given the complexity of the project, it was essential to collaborate with an expert,” the Lefay team explains. “We needed someone who could offer technical knowledge combined with attention to detail, consistent with our brand values. The facilities of a large kitchen are quite sophisticated and require a high level of technical preparation, which Alexander Hofer has always provided.”

Originally, the plan had been to have a traditional back-of-house hotel kitchen, but this changed over time as the Leali family decided they wanted to offer more diversity for guests and include a show kitchen in the all-day dining restaurant.

“We needed more space to implement this system,” Hofer recalls. “With a classic system, you can combine the preparation with some cooking lines, but in this case you have to separate it all clearly. More investment and space were required to realise our concept.”

And this was just one aspect of the project. As Hofer explains: “Despite the manageable number of 200 guests maximum, the complex is huge and built over several floors. It was important to coordinate and control the entire overview of the processes and to always have the budget under control.”

Everything made to measure

In total, more than 500 devices and pieces of equipment had to be specified and coordinated. Apart from a few floor-standing models, all of these were made to measure. For example, the work surfaces in the show kitchens were granite and device covers were dyed and built to special heights, while the self-cleaning ventilation blanket was colour-matched to the rest of the equipment.

To make maximum use of the space, the pass at Dolomia was designed to also serve as the breakfast buffet in the morning. Meanwhile, there are special cooking and cooling tables for chocolate in the patisserie area, where the humidity is regulated and the temperature never strays below 15 °C or above 18 °C.

Cooking islands, which were customised to include additional non-standard items such as a dim sum pasta cooker, were provided by Ambach, steamers came from Convotherm, an eye-catching oven for the show kitchen was provided by Australia’s Phoenix Ovens, while the basic units, workspaces and tables came from Prostahl.

Every piece of equipment was delivered to the highest hygiene standards. “We wanted to make it easy for employees to keep it clean, especially in front of the guests. We want a showcase kitchen for everyone, employees and customers,” says Hofer.

Challenged and motivated

For Hofer, one of the things that stood out about this project was that the client took as much care over the employees’ experience as he did over the guests’.

“As kitchen and catering technology planners you often get the space of designers and customers and there is nothing left to do but plan the ‘best compromise’,” he says.

“But here the room service kitchen cooks for employees too. Employees can go there at lunch or dinner time and something will be cooked fresh for them. It’s a really nice thing, especially in times where much is talked about profit optimisation and selfishness. It’s a particularly beautiful approach, especially since Lefay Resorts are also very successful economically, so the exception confirms the rule.”

He also appreciated the Leali family’s personal approach to working with planners and consultants. As the Lefay team put it: “The experience and professionalism of an industry expert helps to optimise the systems’ choice and the logistics of the kitchen, but it is of course important for the company team to follow the project closely to make sure it has that personal identity.”

Hofer’s experience was that the client maintained a respectful distance but also had high expectations. “You are always challenged and motivated to get involved. Personally, I love such an atmosphere, it is very professional,” he says. “As with top athletes, 99% of their success is pure diligence, discipline. You have to challenge yourself, your team, keep learning and be ready for change. Only then can you achieve extraordinary results.”

Elly Earls