A look at spa food treatments

by Judith Fein
photos by Paul Ross

When you were a child, your mother probably told you not to play with your food. You weren’t supposed to make snowballs out of your mashed potatoes or bore fingerholes in your jell-o. But did your mother ever tell you not to rub, mash and wrap your food around your body? Probably not, because those were the days before food treatments at some of the country’s premier and priciest spas.When you think about it, it makes perfect sense, both for health and marketing. If an edible is high in vitamin C or is useful for combating inflammation, why not use it inside and out? As for marketing, the food novelty is a spa owner’s dream-come-true: if you rub it on, they will come.

Spa Tub

The undisputed Grande Dame of comestible skin treatments is the new spa at the Hotel Hershey in Pennsylvania. The spa therapists wax eloquent about the antioxidant properties of chocolate, which may well be true, but the real appeal is that there is now a way to indulge in the dark, creamy forbidden pleasure without gaining an ounce.

The most affordable and popular of the treatments is the Whipped Cocoa Bath ($45). You get lowered into a tub full of the stuff you love to drink. The actual ingredients include powdered milk and 1/8 of a cup of cocoa; not enough to make you break out, but enough to give you the aroma and the luxurious feeling. For the slightly more adventurous, after the bath there is a cocoa bean polish ($55). Your body is coated with nutty brownie mix-or something that feels like it. What’s in the gritty mixture? Walnut shell powder, cocoa bean husks and coconut oil, which gives it a creamy texture.

If you still haven’t had enough, there’s a 60- minute Chocolate Fondue Wrap ($90). A spa therapist will pull out a large brush, and paint you, forehead to toes, with a thick mixture of moor mud and cocoa. You will look like a biscotti. You will feel like a biscotti. And then you will be wrapped in layers of plastic and towels to allow you to relax in chocolate heaven. You will probably fall asleep and then, when the therapist uses a Vichy shower to clean off the brown stuff, it will be the end of life as a gourmet bakery item.

And there is more. In the Circular Dining Room, the butter you slather on your rolls is made with chocolate. Everywhere you look, there are kisses and little squares of crunchy chocolate. If you still haven’t had enough, you can buy it, ship it, send it, and take home the body products that are made with it.

But does it work? Who knows. Your skin will feel softer, you will be more relaxed than before you saw a spa therapist, and you will be able to talk about your experience for months to come. If you come as a couple, chocolate indulgence may make you feel more amorous. Some even claim it is an aphrodisiac. So the benefits are probably emotional and psychological as well as physical.

Spa Shower

A few hours from Hershey is the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and Spa (1-800-422-2736), which is a Pennsylvania hideout for the very wealthy and the very corporate. There is a private air strip where both the current and past Presidents landed and every amenity you can think of from golf courses to corridors dripping with art to a soda parlor for the kids. For the health-prone, there is a body treatment that uses the aquatic food many people buy at local health food stores: seaweed ($145 dollars for 80 minutes). It is supposed to be the best detoxifying agent around.

Your therapist will first do a dry brushing of your skin and then you’ll get a very gentle lymphatic massage. Next, you will be swathed in warm, moist, vaguely slimy seaweed. Then you are wrapped in warm blankets, heat is applied and you will most likely conk out. When you come to, if you care, your spa therapist may tell you that you have been treated with red and brown algae, which remove lactic acid. What really matters is that you will be really relaxed. As an added algae benefit, as with chocolate, your skin will be baby-butt soft, and you can trail the soothing feeling with you for days.

Leaving behind pastoral Pennsylvania, your search for food dousing will probably lead you to California wine country, where the MacArthur Place spa offers treatments in-what else?-wine grapes.

The MacArthur Place hotel is one of Sonoma’s historic country inns. The grounds are a riot of flowers and the spa is next to a pool where California sybarites lounge, relax, and try to turn off their cell phones.

Inside, the spa, there are a host of grape treatments on the menu. First, there is a hot grape essence bath. There is a vague aroma of vines as you are lowered into the water. Your therapist will set a bunchy of grapes next to the tub before she withdraws from the room. In the semi-darkness, you will undoubtedly notice that the shower head across from you is in the shape of a sunflower. Around the tub, are lovely, large plastic ducks. You are in beautiful bucolic wine country, indoors.

Next, you will probably want to indulge in a crushed grape seed wrap. A spa therapist will rub you in somewhat grainy grape seed, and soon you will be covered in a purplish-gray paste. Then you will be massaged from the feet up with grape oil. Although you will want to space out and mindlessly enjoy the wrapping experience that follows, you may ask your spa therapist what the grape seeds will do for you. As you nod off, you will hear the words “antioxidants” and “untreated grapes” floating in the air above your head. And then, soporific bliss. When you wake up, you will be lightly doused in a peppermint scent (all the treatments can be had in the Red Red Wine Package for $194).

After you are graped in Sonoma, you may want to head south to Austin, where the Lake Austin Spa and Resort offers treatments in wine and honey (another divine wrap experience) or corn silk. The very words conjure up wispy, soft images, and the treatment is just that. A therapist will exfoliate you, and then slather a mixture of oatmeal and corn husks on your body. As you drift of into dreamland, you will wake up every now and again as your body is massaged and de-knotted from the tensions of life. When the treatment is over, you will be as perky as a fresh ear of corn (treatment including massage, $195).

Now that the outside of your body has been fed, the inside won’t be far behind. The spa restaurant menu boasts calorie and fat counts, but, most important, it is gourmet dining and everything tastes great. After meals, you can go kayaking on a private stretch of the Colorado River, meditate in a hammock, or participate in Pilates, NIA and exercise ball classes. So if you feel wonderful when you go home, who knows if it’s the food on your body or the pampering of your body, mind and soul.

Of all the foodie spa treatments, surely the most unusual is a short flight away in Dallas, at the luxurious spa at the Crescent hotel. You can opt for the Javanese Lulur, which was originally given to brides for forty consecutive days prior to their weddings ($225 for almost two hours). After a massage with jasmine oil, the body is scrubbed in an aromatic mixture of turmeric, rice powder, jasmine, frangipane and cool yoghurt. Then you are bathed, served ginger tea and moisturized. It is one of many lovely treatments, but it is not the piece de resistance. That distinction is reserved for-are you ready?-a treatment in barbecue sauce. It is the only place in the world where you can get the treatment. And if you are a chili addict like I am, this is the ultimate rush.

At a recent visit to the Crescent Spa, I was assigned a therapist named César. Once he had ceremoniously laid out on the massage table, he gently sheathed my body in a mixture of cabernet wine and water. Then, with a fairly vigorous hand, he applied a pineapple scrub. He rubbed me with the mixture of crushed peppercorns and pineapple. Soon, he pronounced me ready for the warm up. In a beautiful little bowl he mixed body barbecue sauce for me: tomato paste, honey, lemon juice, cayenne pepper and paprika. Then he applied it to my body, wrapped me in cellophane and blankets and left me to relax.

At first, I felt pampered and relaxed and nothing else. You see, it’s a creeper. After about ten minutes, I understood exactly how a baby back rib feels. I started to heat up. My back began to tingle. Then I began to burn. It was sexy, exotic, exciting. I mean, I was HOT!

Then César cooled me down with a margarita lime lotion. The body meal was over.

So what will it be for you: chocolate, algae, grapes, corn silk or barbecue? With the success of these culinary body indulgences, other foods will certainly follow. Honeydew melon, perhaps? Or, can lobster bisque be far behind?


Hotel Hershey in Pennsylvania, 400 Hotel Road, Hershey, Pa 17033. 717-520-5888.
The MacArthur Place hotel, 707-938-2929 or www.macarthurplace.com
Lake Austin Spa and Resort, 1-800-847-5637 or www.lakeaustin.com
Crescent Hotel, 214-871-3232.

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