Executive Chef, Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort
Regional Executive Chef, Omni Hotels & Resorts
Amelia Island, Fla.
From the time he was little, Daven Wardynski wanted to be a veterinarian. But when his high-school girlfriend went to college at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, he switched gears. Northern Michigan didn’t offer a veterinary science major, so Wardynski decided to major in culinary arts, because “that seemed easy enough.”
It all worked out well: Fourteen years later, Wardynski is happily married to Jennifer, his high-school sweetheart, while running the $30 million food-and-beverage operation at the Omni Amelia Island (Fla.) Plantation Resort.
Wardynski developed an impressive pedigree after leaving college. He staged at a number of famous restaurants, including Charlie Trotter’s, Alinea, and TRU. He joined Omni in 1998—first in Chicago and then, nearly three years ago, on Amelia Island.
Wardynski is passionate about his craft and fortunate to work with a resort that supports his culinary dreams and whimsies. His many projects at Omni include eight honeybee hives that produce over 1,000 pounds of palmetto honey annually; a greenhouse and garden, dubbed the Sprouting Project, that save the property nearly $18,000 in purchasing each year; and a scratch kitchen.
With plans to open a barrel room and (hopefully) to someday have chickens on the property, Wardynski is always looking to elevate his operation, his team and himself.
1. If I could trade places with one chef it would be Eric Rippert from Le Bernadin in New York City. He’s absolutely exceptional without being overly complicated.
2. My go-to drink is a Hendricks Gin and tonic with extra lime.
3. My most memorable meal was at the French Laundry (Yountville, Calif.) with my wife before we had kids. It was one of those meals that, when I look back on it, I can see how it shaped my mindset on food.
4. If I could change one thing about my resorts, I would give our chefs even more freedom and support to execute their out-of-the-box ideas—like honeybee hives and greenhouses and anything else they can dream up.
5. My favorite junk food is Oreo cookies.
6. If I wasn’t a chef, I’d love to be a veterinarian. I love big cats. I have a tremendous amount of respect for these animals. They embody grace and demand respect. We had a bobcat years ago and we now have an African serval who loves to snuggle with my daughters, Alexis (9) and Zoe (5).
7. I knew I wanted to be a chef when I started to see success with the foods I was cooking. I really fell into this career, but I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. I’m really happy where I am.
8. You’ll never see tilapia on my menu at the resort, because it’s a garbage fish.
9. The most ridiculous guest request I’ve ever had was when the guest asked me to prepare pork for a Jewish wedding.
10. I love being a resort chef because of the diversity of my canvas. Every day is different, and ingredients and trends are constantly changing. I’m a firm believer that everything can taste great if it’s treated well and prepared with care and passion.
11. When I’m not in the kitchen, I’m sleeping or riding my bike. I don’t have a car, so I ride my bike to work daily. It’s 4.01 miles from my garage door to my office door.
12. If I were stranded on a desert island, I’d want salt, pepper, seeds of any sort, chickens and bacon with me.
13. I’d eat cookies my girls made in their Easy-Bake Oven at home, but I’d never serve them at the resort.
14. If I could have dinner with one person, dead or alive, it would be my Grandma. When I was a kid, she would always cook for my family. She made authentic, home-style comfort food. I was in sixth grade when she passed away but before she died, she said to me, “Daven, keep my kitchen alive.” I never thought I’d become a chef, but I hope that she would be damn proud that I have.
15. The most valuable piece of advice I’ve ever received was, “Learn how to use salt and pepper properly.”
16. I believe these six words describe my food: Simple. Refined. Seasoned. Balanced. Surprising. Clean.
17. My favorite ingredient, and the most undervalued ingredient, is salt; bacon is the most overrated ingredient; and I detest chicken base and whipped cream in a can.
18. I’d like to see more one-on-one interaction between chefs and members or guests.