More than a year after the Marco Island Marriott turned into the JW Marriott, and 60+ years since it opened a new 50 room hotel on Marco Island’s beach, the highly anticipated Lanai Tower officially “opened” this week.
Conference attendees, event organizers, guests and locals are enjoying the customizable meeting halls, 10K Alley state-of-the-art arcade, as well as the Paradise by Sirene adult exclusive enclave, rooms, pool and tailored experiences.
The caliber of the premiere, Paradise Redefined, set a standard for what a typical JW guest can expect when visiting the hotel. Select guests were invited to the opening to experience the attention to detail JW is known for through their own “voyage of discovery,” as Amanda Cox, Director of Sales and Marketing, described it.
Amanda said it best when she said that the rain during the event was a sign of good luck, rebirth, and renewal. “As we planned the event, we took special care to infuse that glamour of the original 1971 celebration into what you’re going to experience tonight. We at the JW focus on honoring our past, appreciating our present, and looking forward to the future.”
After welcoming messages by Amanda, General Manager Sharon Lockwood, Collier County Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Jack Wert, and Director of Food and Beverage Charles Albanos, eight “Top Chefs” opened individual stations scattered around Tesoro and the fifth floor of the Lanai Tower for an enticing culinary experience. The stations showcased their creativity, expertise, and passion as the chefs curated their tasting options just for the opening.
JW’s own Chef Gerald Sombright participated in “Top Chef” Season 14, along with all of the other chefs featured at Sunday’s event. The rapport and friendship among the chefs was evident as they came together again.
Among the attendees was Rick Medwedeff, the past GM of the hotel who began the transformation of the Marriott to the elevated JW status, and who had worked tirelessly to get the new Lanai Tower underway. He returned to Marco Island for the opening ceremony and commented on how Marco Island is still a large part of him.
A “Marco History” room was organized by the Marco Island History Museum. From the past to present, Marco’s history was showcased. Highlights included the infamous “Marco Island Curse,” which seemed to affect those who tried to develop on Calusa Indian grounds. Captain Bill Collier definitely had his fair share of “the curse” through the death of his mother, brother, daughter, sons, and first wife. As if he had not been cursed enough, decades later, his clam factories and railroad failed. The Marco History room was home to the evening’s dessert selections.
Signature craft cocktails is a component of any culinary experience. Just one of the featured drinks was a single-barreled Woodford, extra-aged by six months in a re-charred cask and lined with Kentucky honey and as the drink is being prepared, the bourbon is “smoked” to perfection. If that wasn’t enough, 10k Alley was opened to event attendees for unlimited games and custom airbrushed t-shirts and hats.
The night was an unparalleled immersive experience that displayed what the JW Marriott Marco Island is truly capable of creating.
When asked, Chef Brooke Williamson, Top Chef season 14 champion, Knife Fight champion, and owner of five restaurants, explained that she chose to use lamb in her dish because it is not something the average person works with. She highlighted that people are often afraid to work with lamb and tend to choose beef options instead.
Chef Michael Passmore, known for his 86-acre ranch that produces sustainably raised seafood and some of the world’s finest caviar, featured his “caviar cones,” a savory cone filled with creme fraiche and topped with caviar. The first cone was a creamy, nutty, fatty white sturgeon caviar from his very own Passmore Ranch. The second cone was a steelhead roe washed in local hibiscus.
Chef BJ Smith, owner of Portland’s Delores restaurant, created a Paczki lined with a foie gras mousse, fried dough, topped with bordelaise sauce, and fresh white alba truffle. When asked about the dish, it was described as “the most luxurious, savory donut you’ve ever had in your life.”
Chef John Tesar, two-time Top Chef contestant, created one of the simplest but most delicious burgers. When asked why he chose a burger, he stated that a lot of people think that it is the best burger in Texas. Chef Tesar explained that the meat is from 44 farms, out of Cameron, Texas, 100% angus bulls and angus heifers fed with sorghum, molasses, fermented cotton seed, and very little corn silage.
Chef John Tesar has also been called “the single most talented cook, I ever worked with” by Anthony Bourdain. Sharing his experiences with Bourdain, Chef explained, “Anthony was such an amazing story teller” and that they would cook and share stories with each other. Anthony Bourdain ended up using Chef Tesar’s stories under the pseudonym Jimmy Sears.
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