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By Yvonne Ayala McClellan, The New-Press
Grabbing a bite to eat with your banker takes on a whole new meaning at FineMark National Bank & Trust. Forget the queue to see your bank teller. Client meetings are held in a private dining conference room, where clients can savor orange-ginger soup and citrus-glazed mahi mahi as they discuss personal finances and investment options. The bank’s locations in Fort Myers and Bonita Springs sport in-house executive chefs on staff who dish up a range of meals and hors d’oeuvres for private meetings to cocktail receptions and more.
“Our focus, primarily at FineMark, is on client service and that’s a whole way to enhance the experience,” said Shelley Anderson, managing executive at FineMark’s Bonita Springs office.
Select companies across Lee County boast on-site food services to benefit employees and clients, but often those jobs are a boon for chefs, who have a lighter schedule and more creative freedom, whether those jobs are outsourced to food service companies or chefs are on payroll.
At global IT research firm Gartner, Jim Bruzio has complete creative license beyond the typical food cost constraints. “I’m not locked into any menu at all,” the chef manager said. “It’s completely up to me what I serve.”
He works for FLIK, a food service company that runs the cafeteria at Gartner’s Gateway office, but the company also holds the contract to cook at Gartner’s head- quarters in Connecticut. The Southwest Florida cafeteria seats roughly 550 in a 120,000-square foot office building that churns out enough food for 600-plus employees, with breakfast and lunch options each workday.
He’ll feature entrees such as slow-roasted barbecue pork loin and buffalo chicken tenders with roasted green beans and sundried tomato pesto couscous on the hot buffet. The cold salad buffet has the regular suspects with some unexpected finds: roasted red peppers, tomato and feta salad, guacamole and more.
“Each day the sandwich station has a different special,” he said. “The person working the station will come up with it.”
The culinary team also pools their knowledge to offer authentic dishes from other cultures.
“One that’s really been popular is pozole,” Bruzio said. “We do have three girls from South America, and every now and then we’ll do a South American day.”
But the best part are the hours. Bruzio starts at 6 a.m., but clocks out at 3:30 p.m.
“No nights, no weekends, no holidays,” he said.
Patricia Agent falls asleep with a pen and notepad on her nightstand for those creative flashes that awaken her at 3 or 4 a.m.
“I really love what I do here at Culinary Services,” she said. “We have such a such a diverse group here with chefs that have studied in Paris to a chef that worked and in lived in Haiti.”
Agent, the executive chef at LeeSar Culinary Services, oversees 16 chefs who put together menus for all of Lee Memorial Health System, as well as other outside programs. It’s her job to keep the recipes and menus fresh for the thousands of customers the organization feeds daily.
She and her team consider dietary restrictions, but also have to stay trendy.
They need to be able to churn out cafe-quality salads and sandwiches along with five-star restaurant quality meals and services from one function to the next, she said. “It’s a learning experience coming from a kitchen into a manufacturing plant,” she said.
At FineMark, food is a way to connect with people, said Lisa Fidler, executive chef at the Bonita Springs office.
She’ll fix a breakfast spread or three-course lunch menu for a client meeting, then turn around and fix hors d’oeuvres, such as merlot gelee and brie spoons or crudites with a Parmesan, pesto and sundried tomato terrine, for a cocktail party later that night.
“We work hard, but we all laugh,” Fidler said. “We have a good time.”
Fidler’s kitchen has a “from-scratch” philosophy, balancing the menu between economy and freshness and variety.
Mahi mahi may be featured on the menu for a few days, but at one event it might be seasoned with a five-spice rub, and at the next it will be dressed in different flavors. She plays with foods to create surprising results, like a molecular raspberry caviar.
“I think a lot of people think that there have to be a lot of ingredients for it to taste good, but it’s really fresh ingredients and herbs to me that are king,” Fidler said.