by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | March 28, 2014

Once a year, Ritz-Carlton executives and general managers sweep into the Big Apple to rub elbows with their top corporate clients and bring them up to speed on new happenings across their global luxury portfolio. This year's swanky event, held at Guastavino's, an East Side New York City architectural landmark, did not disappoint the more than 200 heavy-hitter guests who turned out to mingle with general managers, sales representatives and top executives from 40 hotels around the world, including Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North America.

I made a beeline for the Ritz-Carlton, Rancho Mirage ( display, which was manned by the hotel's newly appointed executive chef, Bruno Lopez, a transplant from the Ritz-Carlton, Toronto. The 244-room California hotel, which will officially open on May 15, is an important addition for the luxury chain's portfolio because it signals a return of this iconic landmark back into the Ritz-Carlton fold. The hotel opened in 1988 as a Ritz-Carlton and changed hands over time until six years ago, when new owners contracted with Ritz and began a multimillion-dollar renovation. But construction was abruptly shut down four years ago, when the project fell victim to the 2008 financial crisis. Now, as it readies for its long-awaited reopening, chef Bruno told me meeting planners will be nothing short of delighted and amazed by the new food-and-beverage options he and his team have created specifically for groups.

"We have the Coachella Valley right in our backyard, so our menus will be showcasing a lot of their local specialties," Bruno said, and immediately handed me a beautifully wrapped package of local dates to try. Simply delicious. The hotel's main restaurant, State Fare Bar & Kitchen, will play on the rich variety of farmers markets that abound in the valley and include an exhibition kitchen, where small groups can get up close to the action. There will be walk-in red-wine and white-wine rooms where guests can experiment and custom blend their own vino, and cocktail trolley carts where diners can watch their signature drinks get blended. Plus, planners will get the chance to sample a variety of different coffees and decide what blend  they prefer to have served at their meeting breaks and events. "They can even make their own trail mix from a huge selection of fresh, local fruits and nuts," said Bruno.

Menu excitement is not the only thing in store at Rancho Mirage. According to Bill Barrie, senior vice president of design and project management for Ritz-Carlton, the hotel's design incorporates a number of creative event spaces, aside from its 16,000 square feet of traditional meeting space, which will allow groups to have a private piece of a lobby, outdoor terrace or restaurant, providing their own space without removing them from the hotel's vibrant scene. "We have outdoor pit areas, special seating areas within the restaurant, lobby corner areas," said Barrie. "It will be a very exciting property for groups, because its design is so unique, and it was created with them in mind." Welcome back, Ritz-Carlton!