HOTELS IN PANAMA
“Food seller” compares top hotels in Panama
Heiner Gellenberg, executive chef at one of the luxury hotels in Panama City, is a man enthusiastic about his work, yet he describes himself in simple terms. “I am a seller of food,” he says.
Food makes as much money for the Caesar Park Hotel as the rooms do, and that is unusual for any hotel. The secret to that success: 85% of people who eat there are local customers.
Gellenberg keeps a close eye on his competition, eating out about three times a week at restaurants and other hotels in Panama City. “But,” he adds, “I never go to a new restaurant in the first week.” He likes to make sure that start-up problems have been corrected first.
His most memorable event at the Caesar Park was the 2000 Latin American summit, attended by the king and queen of Spain and the heads of most Central and South American countries and Mexico. Most of the dignitaries were accompanied by their personal chefs. They did none of the cooking, but watched closely and advised on the dietary likes and dislikes of their masters.
Castro handed out cigars
Cuba’s Fidel Castro, he remembers, was surrounded by bodyguards. Rooms above, below and on either side of his were taken by his bodyguards. There was a rumored assassination plot against him. But Castro went down into the hotel’s basement, toured the laundry area, shook hands with all the workers and gave each a Cuban cigar. He was popular in that part of the hotel.
Gellenberg’s favorites are seafood dishes. “For meat, what have you got in Panama? Beef, pork and chicken.” Only recently has U.S. beef been available again after the embargo caused by mad cow disease. “Meat from the local beef industry is not nearly as good.” Fortunately, Panama and surrounding countries produce a wide variety of tasty fish and shellfish.
I have eaten seafood in many of the hotels in Panama, and Gellenberg’s servings will not disappoint the most discriminating of taste buds.