Denise Roa has joined the culinary team as executive chef at La Cocina Que Canta, the Cooking School and Culinary Center at Rancho La Puerta fitness resort and spa, located on a six-acre organic farm that climbs a fertile hillside at the foot of Mt. Kuchumaa in Baja California. Roa oversees the school’s renowned guest instructor program, and creates — alongside the farm’s founder Sarah Livia Brightwood — a new line of organic culinary products such as preserves, dressings, and seasonings.

Raised in Miami, Roa moved to San Diego in 1998 and began a successful career working for several of the region’s best known and respected restaurants, including Pacifica Del Mar, the Del Mar Racetrack’s Turf Club, and La Trattoria — a restaurant she owned and operated for six years. Most recently she has been an instructor at the Art Institute of California in San Diego, to date training approximately 500 students in essential culinary skills.  

Roa blends her Mexican heritage with the healthful spa cuisine dining pioneered by Rancho La Puerta. The resort has never focused on caloric deprivation, but rather celebrates the seasons of its own farm and organic produce suppliers with a cuisine that is colorful, zesty, and satisfying — the kind of food that fuels a life of vigorous exercise and activity.

A nature and animal lover in her free time, Roa savors having a farm-fresh pantry at her doorstep — as well as the resort’s 3,000 acres of nature preserve on which to hike with her canine companions. The vast family-owned property includes meadows, oak groves, streams, and mountainsides bedecked with giant granite boulders and chaparral.

Roa looks forward to helping guests make the connection between their newfound cooking skills from La Cocina Que Canta and their heightened understanding of mind/body/spirit fitness from the rest of their visit to the spa. (858/764-5500, www.rancholapuerta.com)    JANE SHIOMI