Manlee Siu, the chef de cuisine at Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa in Manalapan, Fla., might weigh 90 pounds soaking wet. But when she boards the hotel shuttle to work, she often hoists a watermelon on each shoulder.
The Hong Kong–born, Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef, who creates meals for Eau’s American fine dining restaurant Angle, lives and breathes the farm-to-table creed. She’s even hand-sewn burlap bags to harvest her own fruit. In South Florida, where self-promoting chefs are commonplace, Siu lets her food do the talking. And it talks elegantly.
This mango season, now through July, is a perfect example. Siu carefully chooses among 80 juicy varieties of mango from the Delray Beach farm, Truly Tropical. Siu then creates fresh salsa, chutney, juice, salads, crisps, entrees and desserts using mango varieties such as Glenn, Edward, Carrie and Lemon Meringue.
“When I first moved here, it was spring and I assumed I’d be cooking with peaches and cherries,” Siu recounted one morning while selecting mangoes from Truly Tropical. “Then I found out that in south Florida, farms close in May. Then I found mangoes.”
Truly Tropical grove, owned by Chris Wenzel, has 250 trees in just under five acres. Siu develops menus with mangoes that taste like pine, coconut, cinnamon, orange, peach, cantaloupe, pineapple and even pina colada.
One of her favorite desserts is Lemon Meringue Mango Mousse pie. Siu might have actually improved on Mother Nature, as the mango tastes like it was freshly plucked from the tree, with the addition of creamy custard and flaky pie crust crumble. She also serves rich pound cake and macaroons made with mangoes.
Siu grew up in Oakland, Calif., one of six children. She came to the United States at age three, where her parents opened The Phoenix, a Chinese restaurant. Once Siu graduated in Agriculture Economics at the University of California’s Davis campus, she took over the restaurant. She sold it seven years later.
After Le Cordon Bleu, she went to Gary Danko in San Francisco, where she met Chef Josh Thomsen. The two clicked and later opened Meritage restaurant, in Berkley, Calif.
The duo next team focused on a farm-to-table concept at Agricola in New Jersey.
Siu and Thomsen each came to Eau Palm Beach in 2015.
“I didn’t expect to, but I ended up loving the kitchen,” Siu said.
Siu frequently updates her menus according to season, for instance, buying corn from Bedner’s Farm in West Boynton Beach. For fruit this summer, Siu will cook with lychee, star fruit, coconut, sugar apple, jak fruit, sapodilla and tamarind.
And of course, those watermelons.
(Feature picture: Chris Wenzel and Malee Siu by Sharon Geltner)
Sharon Geltner is a South Florida author and journalist whose highly-praised fiction novel, “Charity Bashed’’ reveals the hidden and funny underside of Palm Beach society. The novel can be obtained in independently-owned Palm Beach County book stores and through Amazon.com.