In creating a concept for the spa at the new Andaz Maui at Wailea, the team looked no further than the kitchen.
Story by Sara Smith
Photos by Mieko Hoffman
No sign, no registration barricade—just an open room centering around a large, welcoming island. Bar stools entice: sit, stay awhile. It is what’s on the countertop that intrigues one to do so, neat rows of apothecary jars full of colors and textures. What is this stuff? Where am I?
The contemporary 297-room resort was built from the ground up on 15 oceanfront acres in the luxury Wailea Resort. Conscientious of guest experience, environmental accountability, and innovation, volumes of consideration went into planning and constructing the LEED-certified resort, the first of its kind in Hawai‘i.
As a brand, Andaz acts as a sponge soaking up the cultures, textures, tastes and personality of its surroundings. They turn to their staff, whom they view and empower as hired professionals, to interpret these traits and accentuate their core values. For the signature ‘Awili spa on Maui, this meant transforming a loose “apothecary lounge” concept into a full-blown spa kitchen. And the menu changes daily.
“It started with oil infusions and catapulted from there,” begins Katie Foster. She and Teresa Blackwell were hired months before opening to develop the concept at ‘Awili, which is a Hawaiian word meaning ‘to mix, blend, entwine.’ The two form the spa’s apothecary consultant team and are directly responsible for the contents of all those enticing jars on the counter.
Taking a tip from the resort chefs, the spa team immediately got out to meet their local farmers. Fresh-picked herbs were harvested in Kula and sent through the spa’s trusty dehydrator. When pulverized with mortar and pestle, these dried herbs released scents so vibrant, the women were compelled to experiment with a wider range of ingredients—all culinary grade, all locally sourced from the islands.
“It’s a little science, a little culinary, a little spa, a lot of fun,” summarizes Teresa. On one visit the team was giddy over a new collection of tinctures they’d created using tea concentrates suspended in local honey (a humectant and natural stabilizer, they tell me.) While traditional tinctures have an alcohol base, these are moisturizing—not to mention delicious.
Their excitement is infectious. Spa director Jackie Yulo, who has opened six spas for the company, is astounded with the growth and development at ‘Awili. She says the concept is being adopted by two new Andaz properties in Costa Rica and Tokyo.
Yulo keeps providing more room for the women to experiment. Although plumeria proved confounding, the team is eager to begin working with different limu (seaweed) once a trusted source can be found.
A collaboration with the resort’s kitchen catapulted their vision for a food-based apothecary. From the Bar Lab, a room hidden deep in the kitchen where all cocktail mixes, juices and syrups are hand concocted, the women picked up fresh cucumber juice and more fodder for their dehydrator: citrus peels, jalapeño lees and fresh ginger fibers. The pungency of the spa team’s house-made ground ginger powder inspired the chef, now the kitchen is drying and grinding many of their own herbs and spices. They’re all vying for time in the commercial-grade, large capacity food dehydrator.
The culinary team reciprocates trade secrets, introducing them, for instance, to xanthan gum. With this plant-derived emulsifier and thickener the spa can spontaneously whip up amazing treatment gels, which they now offer.
During my interview, a pool attendant came to Katie for help, concerned for a guest with a severe sunburn. I watched as a beautiful relief gel was whisked together of fresh cucumber juice, peppermint oil, chamomile, glycerin and a touch of xanthan gum. The custom blend was provided gratis to the guest, a level of service indicative of Andaz.
Spa treatments as nourishment, healing, relaxation and rejuvenation are rituals perfected over the ages. What ‘Awili does so well is draw upon the purity and simplicity of ancient wisdom. Vitamin C provides a natural sunscreen boost, so powdered citrus peels make for a smart addition to body treatments here in Hawai‘i. If a client comes in jet-lagged or hungover, a touch of jalapeño or cayenne powder may be recommended for the capsaicin, which is vaso-constricting and stimulates the lymphatic system. And the moisturizing properties of fresh, locally grown foods like kukui and macadamia nuts, coconut and avocado will beat any manufactured lotion, they’d bet. Katie nails it: “The treatments are actually feeding your skin.”
By sourcing the healing properties of whole foods, they’re able to nourish skin naturally without any pesky preservatives, parabens or other chemical additives. And, as drastic allergies become more prevalent, a program like this offers welcome transparency to the product used and the purity of its ingredients.
Not to mention, they can customize beyond expectation.
Back to all those glass jars on the counter. They are, as I discovered, a veritable mise en place for ‘Awili’s signature omakase spa experience, a Japanese concept meaning “faith in you.” The personalized experience begins with a consultation to discuss desired results, allergy concerns or specific ailments, a client’s intuition helps guide what their body needs and wants most. Teresa describes it as a time to touch and play. Out come tools like cutting boards, whisks, scoopers and more. Working together, custom treatment blends are created at the table—whole foods, purees, powders, oils and more adjusted until deemed perfect. It’s a long-proven fact that every party ends up in the kitchen, which could account for a large part of the fun at ‘Awili.
The type of massage dictates the viscosity of the blend they’ll make: a loose and slippery blend works best with the sweeping strokes of a lomilomi massage, while something that provides a little more grip is in order for deep-tissue work. Scrub textures can be soft (coconut flakes), medium (turbinado sugar), or coarse (sea salt). Scents and flavors (it’s all edible!) are chosen for desired effect or simply personal preference. Careful notes are taken for each client and for each recipe, so guests can request a repeat of a favorite treatment.
My omakase resulted in a scrub of both kosher and sea salt—used together for different textures—sage, basil and lavender powders, avocado oil and fresh avocado used as a binding agent. A dropper of essential oil was added, a blend of bergamot, basil, lemon, grapefruit and lavender. A special spot treatment was made for a small patch of eczema on my hand, a blend with calendula, chamomile mixed with one of the honey tinctures. I was sent home with extra to reapply later.
My massage blend consisted of ingredients I mostly had in my own kitchen: coconut milk, coconut oil and kukui and macadamia nut oils. To my delight, Teresa grabbed a nubby pink awapuhi flower (Hawaiian shampoo ginger) from the vase and squeezed its fresh, fragrant nectar into the blend. Instant bliss.
While each guest’s treatment may be deliciously different and each formulation unique, it’s clear that after experiencing the ‘Awili Spa, there is only one possible conclusion: Heaven.