A personal touch, attention to detail no matter how large or small the group, and serving up creative cuisine is a hallmark of the Omni Hotels & Resorts brand, and exemplified by Executive Chef Benjamin Scott Knack at San Antonio’s Omni La Mansion del Rio.
Emphasizing locally sourced artisanal ingredients, Knack has crafted his culinary magic at Omni’s Ostra at Mokara Hotel & Spa and Las Canarias at Omni La Mansion del Rio for about a year-and-a-half, originally hailing from New England, where he worked at a variety of fine-dining establishments and served as an instructor at the New England Culinary Institute. Other career stops have seen him in Phoenix as well as Hyatt properties in Kauai and Beaver Creek, Colo. A recent accolade includes a third-place finish on the reality cooking competition show Hell’s Kitchen, under the stern gaze of the famously grumpy Gordon Ramsay.
Knack says that appearing on the show with one of his culinary heroes, Ramsay, whom he actually had met earlier in his career, was a thrill.
“I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s Gordan Ramsay yelling at me! I love this guy!’” he quips.
While perhaps not displaying the kitchen histrionics Ramsay is famous for, Knack and his crew at the Omni have no less passion for their craft and the high standard of service and individuality.
“Omni is totally chef-driven, which is unique from other brands,” Knack says. “The ingredients that we use for our groups are no different than in the restaurant. The number-one thing in the Omni chain is the lead cooks are the same ones that work in our restaurants. There’s no difference between our banquets and restaurants; all of the processes are the same.”
Standout dishes include the customer favorite 62-Degree Egg, precision-cooked with an immersion circulator; buttermilk-dressed quail and waffles—a gourmet twist on a Southern favorite; shrimp and grits with the flavorful local Gulf brown shrimp; cold-smoked, bacon-cured steak; and an amazing dessert table that utilizes liquid nitrogen to create a big “wow” effect.
Providing memorable break F&B presentations is a particular point of pride for Knack and Omni, which looks at this time as an opportunity to showcase dishes such as a “Banana Break” that rolls out banana-split-like treats for attendees.
“When you’re in meetings all day it’s fun to have something fresh and bright,” he says. “I always try to engage with the groups that are in just to make their day that much better.”
And part of that experience is a chain-wide dedication to having a high level of catering staffing, presentation and premium ingredients that makes the difference between large F&B and individual dining negligible.
“We actually have chefs working stations—we’re not just dumbing it down,” Knack says of the level of service the Omni provides to groups. “Banquets should not be banquets. It should be just as awesome as any other meal you have, and every meal here is amazing.”