By Sara Reese
To say Javier Rosa has a lot on his hot plate would be an understatement.
Rosa, executive chef at the Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort, drives the culinary team that oversees all the resort’s restaurants and banquet venues. He utilizes his expertise – garnered over 20 years in the industry – to train and develop back-of-house and front-of-house operations. Rosa and his team serve four restaurants, two private clubs, and 88,000 square feet of banquet space, serving the guests at galas, conferences, group meetings, and weddings.
From unpretentious beginnings cooking with his mother in Puerto Rico, to opening a hotel in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Rosa’s background includes a vast mixture of cuisine, locales, and methods. Being in the kitchen with his mom inspired his career in the culinary world, and that passion and heart stay with him today.
“Her grace, love and happiness always comes to mind when I prepare and create dishes. These feelings are addicting!” Rosa said. “I always want more of it and so I cook my heart out.”
Never is this truer than when cooking his favorite cuisine, Thai, which exhibits a clean approach in maneuvering the simple ingredients.
“The perfect spiciness and the combination of ginger, lemon grass, kafir limes, coconut, curry, Thai peppers, and fish sauce is always great,” he explained. “Once you create a great balance, once you have a great Thai dish, all the flavors are umami in one bite.”
Rosa takes daily opportunities to interact with his guests, allowing him the best opportunities to guarantee that the final product is one that he intended to provide. The chef finds it a highlight of his day to be able to thank his guests, get to know them, discover what brings them back to Sandestin every year, and be able to learn their names.
To stay on top of ever-changing trends in the culinary scene, Rosa participates in the American Culinary Federation, keeps current with culinary magazines and books, while staying in tune with travel news and different cultures. He also visits small unknown and acclaimed mom and pop places, committing outstanding flavors and presentations to memory to inspire future menus.
The chef – with the support of Sandestin leadership – has been operating with the concept of using their own for a few months now. The effort allows them to create dishes that he believes not only benefit the environment but are more enjoyable to the guests’ palate, an aim that has received positive feedback from those enjoying his creations.
Rosa contributed to the team that opened The Ritz Carlton in Jamaica. Here he developed a mentor relationship with The Ritz’s corporate chef, Master Chef George McNeill, whom Rosa remembers to be the first to allow one-on-one time to discuss anything in the culinary industry. During these times he learned the business side of being a lead chef – the details beyond cooking. With McNeill, he had a mentor who cared enough to correct him when he failed to meet the quality and standards expected of him.
“He pushed me. He challenged me a lot. If we didn’t have that experience together at that point of my career, I’m not sure I’d be where I am today,” Rosa admitted.
Rosa identifies stars among his staff and sous chefs and aims to provide the same level of mentoring he received early on in his career.
“I believe that leadership is a privilege; this title is given to you by those who want to follow your lead,” he said. “It is a privilege that comes with the responsibility to inspire others and to direct them to attain the vision and goals of our organization and of their own, empowering others to make decisions of their own and to be leaders themselves.”
Photos by Chase Yakaboski
This story originally appeared in the Spring 2018 edition of the Food & Wine Guide for South Walton.