In Montauk, Escaping To Shape Up – Forbes

By Hannah Elliott – Original Article

Lately, I’ve been drinking lots of kale. Kale and apples and celery, actually.

Blame Nicole Gimmillaro, a chef with flawless skin who cooked for me and a dozen others for four days recently out at The Surf Lodge.

The meals she prepared during Escape to Shape, a wellness program led by one Erica Gragg, have motivated me to eat more vegetables. The Escape concept is simple: Travel to an exotic locale and spend a week there doing yoga, sight-seeing, shopping, and getting massages. Think Cape Town, Careyes, Cartagena. (Gragg, whose profession surely contributes to her ballerina-perfect physique, is the one who came up with the brilliant idea of doing a Bikini Boot Camp in Tulum, Mexico. She has quite the good gig.)Today In: Business

The view from my room at The Surf Lodge.

Anyway, I took a Fisker Karma out to Montauk one Friday morning for four days of rejuvenation. I didn’t think much of it. Another “yoga retreat,” sure. Show up, get some stretching in, drink a smoothie, and get back to real life with my sugar- and carb-loving habits firmly intact.


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Problem is, I didn’t take Gimmillaro into consideration. One night for dinner in the sand she made me (and a few others, but it felt personal) lobster with sweet potato salad and roasted beet quinoa with pink tahini dressing. Another time it was arctic char with carrot-curry reduction sauce, coconut rice and wilted rainbow chard, eaten in a secret enclave lit by dozens of candles near the pond. Also: Labneh-stuffed dates with marcona almonds and pomegranate drizzle; Mayan chocolate health nut truffles; banana chia pudding. The desserts may sound healthy, but they didn’t taste like it.

“Shop the walls,” Gimmillaro told us during an evening nutritional session. We were learning how to buy groceries—stay away from the packaged things on shelves in the middle of the store—and how to eat sensibly, avoiding the temptation toward perceived convenience (don’t eat things with ingredients you can’t pronounce). It was all very entry-level, very Michael Pollan. And the consensus around our table of lawyers, writers, and sales reps was that if we had someone to feed us like this we’d eat gluten-free every day.

Yes. No gluten. You may be surprised to learn that Gimmillaro is Italian–so she knows the perfection that is good pasta–but everything we ate that weekend was gluten-free. She relied on things like Millett, quinoa, nuts, cheese, eggs, and Kefir to provide healthy and filling protein. Paired with the two-a-day yoga classes and a two-hour hike in the Hither Hills, it was a recipe perfectly poised to shred your body in short order.

This jeep provided our transportation for the weekend.
This jeep provided our transportation for the weekend.

Shred we did. That was the other main component of this Escape to Shape getaway: set up yoga mats on the Surf Lodge deck and let SLT instructors Jaime Lugo and Amanda Freeman lead us through hours of squat thrusts, planks and weird curling motions they promised would trim our waists down to nil. We did enough vinyasa-style yoga to fill a barnyard—cows and locusts and pigeons and crows abounded—though the beauty of Freeman’s SLT philosophy is that it pollinates between Pilates, yoga and tone (read: hand-weights) classes. There’s a reason SLT stands for Strength Lengthen Tone.

I’ll admit I did sit out the stand-up paddle board lesson and a few “power walks” over the course of the retreat. I had other fish to fry at Jackson Pollock’s house in Springs—but that’s a different story. Anyway, the purpose of a retreat is to become precisely what you make it, right? Gragg reiterated constantly that we should feel free to take only what we wanted from this time on the long island. A nice concession, too, considering the amount of lactic acid that had built up in my glutes.

What I did find fascinating was the meditation we practiced a bit in the downtime. Transcendental, almost. Actual TM requires proper training and a special mantra, but Elizabeth Rossa is the founder and director of Shriyoga, and she shared some intelligence with us on regular meditation one night after dinner.

“It’s okay if you fall asleep,” Rossa said, reassuringly. “It’s not a destination. There’s no right or wrong way to do it.”

Recommended is to do two 20-minute sessions each day, and not right before bed. The idea is that it makes you more alert and energized than drowsy. (Someone smart told me that if you think you don’t have 20 minutes for it, you need two hours’ worth….)

It was a good segway into the universe of Monte Farber, and he is indeed a universe unto himself. Consultant to the stars with a personality to match, Farber is married to Amy Zerner, who has long sold mystical jewelry and clothing at Bergdorf Goodman (see Scatter My Ashes At Bergdorf’s if you haven’t already; it’s fun and light and has some digs at Barneys thrown in for good measure).

Evening at The Surf Lodge.
Evening at The Surf Lodge.

Farber says he has unique psychic abilities, and he compiled an astrological chart for each of us based on the exact date, time and location of our birth. I had always known I was a Scorpio, but for telling me I’m a Leo moon Gemini rising I’ll be forever grateful.

“Don’t take this too seriously—it’s supposed to be fun,” Farber said at the start. Wise words, in my opinion. You’d hate to become a slave to a horoscope. “This shouldn’t run your life. It inclines rather than compels.”

Did I mention we did all of this under the good graces of Jayma Cardoso, the Brazilian owner of the Surf Lodge who also oversees Lavo in Manhattan? The day I arrived she greeted me with a kiss in jeans, a soft flannel shirt and wool toque—quite the off-season look for a woman known for her colorful gowns and bronze skin. But it was the perfect attitude for such a holistic time. The weekend was about comfortable nourishment in all its forms.

Which brings me back to kale. Since returning from Montauk I’ve kept up the habit of replacing an afternoon cappuccino with a snakeskin-green raw juice—I’ve found it makes my eyes feel brighter and leads to fewer cravings for sugar in the evenings, though I’m sure a placebo could be to blame for half the effect.

The taste of it—like early morning yoga—is a jolt. But it’s tough to argue with results.

Here is what was included in the stay, which cost $2,350 per person for a private room:

Musical entertainment during our lobster bake on the beach.
Musical entertainment during our lobster bake on the beach.

• Three nights in beach-chic accommodations at The Surf Lodge in Montauk, NY.

• Three meals and snacks reflective of the region and season

• Fresh juices from Hampton’s Juicy Naam

• Daily yoga and fitness classes from SLT

• Power walks and hiking

• Stand-up paddleboarding lessons

• Nutrition chat, David Lynch Foundation Transcendental Meditation Talk, Astrology Discussion

• Private picnic

• Farewell BBQ on the beach

• One massage

• Tax

Organic wines and cocktails were available for additional charges. We did partake.

• Transportation to and from the Montauk Jitney station