Meet the stylish leading men and their team of talented professionals offering a wide range of cuisines to please any palate at Ocala’s chic new equestrian destination.
The Roberts family’s passion for horses and luxury housing projects is well known, but their newest venture, lovingly curated by matriarch Mary Roberts, is expanding the boundaries of Marion County’s dining scene.
The World Equestrian Center Ocala (WEC) is the largest equestrian complex in the United States, offering world-class equestrian action, hosting great events and offering engaging entertainment in a family-friendly environment. And, with a bevy of distinct restaurants, a stylish gastro lounge offering delicious pub fare, an elegant European-inspired patisserie and a gourmet sweets shop, you can eat and drink to your heart’s content.
Now that the eagerly awaited Equestrian Hotel, with its 248 rooms and suites, is open, WEC Ocala is making its mark as a modern destination resort with a culinary profile sure to satisfy the most discerning foodie and leave them hungry for more.
With more than 200 professionals on the food and beverage team, each day a monumental effort is undertaken to provide memorable experiences for travelers and locals alike.
Leading this massive endeavor is Executive Chef Ryker Brown, an award-winning and Forbes-rated culinarian who earned his degree from the famous Le Cordon Bleu school. His previous posts have included leading roles at such noted destinations as Waldorf Astoria Park City, the Sundance Mountain Resort and as hotel executive chef for Omni Hotels & Resorts in Nashville.
“Our group of chefs is the secret to the success of WEC,” Brown shares. “In my 25 years of cooking, I don’t think I’ve ever been so fortunate to work with a group of amazing culinarians who are truly committed to their craft.”
But Brown says it comes down to more than just the chefs. In order to shine, they needed the best hospitality team possible.
“We could not have accomplished as much as we have, and will yet do, without the support of those who work for us and the support of who we work for. I am proud to work with my team every day and hope to have a positive impact on their lives.”
He says what makes WEC’s extensive culinary offerings so special is the diversity of the experiences that are available.
“We have such a variety of cuisines, from chef-driven, fast casual concepts to a garden pub or a luxury Southern-inspired steakhouse,” he explains. “I wanted to make sure that, regardless of the concept and service style, we are committed to using the best quality ingredients that we can get, whether it be using Italian Caputo flour for our pizza dough at Viola & Dot’s, prime beef for our Carne Asada at Filo’s Mexican Cantina or homemade pretzels with beer cheese at Yellow Pony. Stirrups has an amazing USDA Prime steak program, along with great Southern-inspired dishes such as Deviled Eggs, Shrimp & Grits, and Southern Fried Organic Chicken. Everything we do is ingredient driven.”
Brown shares that even the butter used to create their croissants, pain au chocolate and certain pastries for Emma’s Patisserie is imported from France. He describes the shop as an “amazing French bakery with a variety of desserts and sweets, including French macarons, homemade croissants, danish and even homemade donuts.”
The creative force behind these delectable sweets is Executive Pastry Chef Yohann Le Bescond. He is not only the driving force behind Emma’s and Miss Tilly’s Lollipops sweets shop, but he oversees the creation of the dessert menus and execution of those creations for all the other eateries.
Born and raised in France, Le Bescond began his formal training at the tender age of 15, which included several professional internships. After completing his training with honors, he traveled to Vienna, Austria for further study. There he honed his craft, learning about sugar sculpture from an acclaimed pastry chef and adding additional certifications in candy and ice cream making.
After relocating to the United States, Le Bescond made a name for himself after assuming the role of executive chef at Le Macaron, a top macaron and pastry shop in Miami. He led and designed dessert experiences for the SLS Hotel in Miami Beach, the JW Marriott Marquis in Miami and the American Airlines Arena (now FTX Arena), to name a few, while leading the team at Le Macaron.
After 10 years perfecting his craft, he became the first hire at WEC Ocala.
“I am very proud to be leading the Pastry Department, which includes two kitchens and about 15 chefs and cooks. All desserts throughout the property have been designed and created by me and the two talented pastry sous chefs,” he explains. “All our desserts are handmade daily, for every single restaurant on the property; from the rich chocolate cake at Ralph’s, the tiramisu at Viola’s, the tres leches at Filo’s and every other confection in Emma’s, Miss Tilly’s, the Yellow Pony and Stirrups.”
Le Bescond, whose creations are as delicious as they are striking, had a special challenge when it came to Emma’s, which was named in honor of Mrs. Roberts’ grandmother, who loved baking.
“Mrs. Roberts wanted to bring a piece of France to the Equestrian Hotel, so I went back to the first years of my apprenticeship in France and created a menu that would mix a large range of confections that would reflect her vision,” he recalls. “The signature and most unusual items from Emma’s Patisserie are the entremets and petit gâteau. This particular part of the menu allows me to play with textures, shapes and colors. It requires a certain amount of precision by scaling the ingredients as well as respecting very precise temperatures of mixing and glazing; the pastry team is well trained to follow those procedures and the result is a ‘jewel-like’ dessert that, from our guests’ feedback, is ‘too pretty to eat.’”
One of Le Bescond’s other inspirations is drawn from our region.
“The Florida citrus stays one of my all-time favorites, from the techniques being used as well as the flavors,” he shares.
One of those inspired confections looks like a whole lemon but holds a delicious surprise. After pouring mousse into a lemon-shaped mold, a grapefruit gelée is inserted. After the mousse sets, it is dipped into a mixture of ingredients that includes colored white chocolate that, once crystallized, looks like the lemon’s peel. It is then sprayed with glitter to mimic the skin’s texture. The result is convincing and completely charming.
“It is a fun and whimsical dessert that brings freshness, design and precision to the table,” Le Bescond declares. “From glazing to spraying, layering to dipping; the techniques I use are made to be fun—for me and the guest.”
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
Vincent Cani, the resort executive sous chef, offers that his favorite part of his job is “working alongside so many incredibly talented culinarians and fostering a culture that is extremely special and unique to our property.”
He says he hopes guests to WEC Ocala will experience “genuine hospitality, which comes from all of the hardworking individuals who love what they do and emulate our positive culture.”
Kari Howard, the pastry sous chef for the whimsical Miss Tilly’s Lollipops, echo’s Cani’s sentiment.
“I want guests to experience a fun and light atmosphere where they can come in to enjoy a sweet treat,” she enthuses.
Le Bescond believes that this level of care for the customer experience is because of the passion each member has for their job.
“It is really unique to be surrounded by so many talented people that all bring something to WEC and make it what it is,” he asserts. “Never in my career have I been able to learn so much in such a short amount of time. Chef Brown has succeeded in gathering so many talents together, which I get to learn from daily. It is very humbling to be seeing all the chefs working together and bringing his and the Roberts’ vision to life.”
Isai S. Coca, the chef de cuisine for the hotel, derives great satisfaction from being able to mentor other colleagues while creating great experiences for guests.
“One of the best parts of my job is to help others with their development—to be that chef who is constantly investing in the new generation of cooks or potential chefs and see them achieving their goals,” Coca offers.
“All of our chefs are united in creating the best experience for our guests and our associates,” Brown adds. “My hope is to build something that our community can be proud of, that our associates will enjoy being a part of and that our guests will enjoy coming to.”
To learn about everything WEC has to offer, visit worldequestriancenter.com/ocala-fl or find them on Facebook.