Staycationing at The Shores Resort | Daytona Beach, Florida

As much as I enjoy a getaway to an unfamiliar city or country and the new experiences that come with it, there is something to be said about the excitement and relaxation of a staycation. To me, a proper staycation means booking a hotel a short distance from home, checking the stress of daily life at the door, and acting in true vacationer fashion (nice meals, poolside cocktails, full-on relaxation), all without the time and financial burdens of long distance travel. Though I've only lived in the Daytona Beach area a month or so, stress from my across-the-globe move from South Korea to Florida quickly took its toll, and a staycation at The Shores Resort & Spa was the perfect remedy.

For vacations and staycationers alike, The Shores Resort is the perfect getaway right in Daytona Beach, not to mention the only AAA Four-Diamond oceanfront resort in Central Florida. Perched beachside in Daytona Beach Shores, the resort is a tranquil retreat from the din of spring breakers and Seabreeze partygoers a few miles up A1A. Whether your ideal day is spent sunning on the beach, escaping to the spa, lounging in a poolside cabana, imbibing at the tiki bar or resting around an oceanside fire pit, the Shores seems to meet any vacationer's needs. The highlight for me (no surprise here) was the resort's restaurant, Azure and getting to know Executive Chef Michael Bartscher, a near 20-year veteran of the resort. As a graduate of Daytona State's culinary arts program and longtime Daytona resident, Chef Michael combines his affinity for Floridian classics and locally sourced ingredients with his flair for New American Cuisine, going extra lengths to offer the highest quality dining experience like dry-aging all of his steaks in-house.

After picking Chef's brain and drooling as we watched him whip up the restaurant's classic "THE" Grilled Cheese, we enjoyed his creations at an intimate, al fresco dinner overlooking the ocean. We enjoyed the sunset over cocktails and chef's pride and joy, the Azure Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes with Maque Choux and New Orleans Remoulade then turned our attention to the perfectly prepared Seared Black Grouper and House Aged New York Strip and practically fought over the decadent Lobster Mac 'n Cheese. The perfect end to a perfect evening came in the form of The Shores' signature - the Seaside 'Smores - conveniently packaged in a do-it-yourself kit to be enjoyed oceanside over one of the resort's several fire pits. Learn more about Chef Michael and his inspirations in the Q+A below:

Q: I like to start with an easy one, what is your favorite cuisine either to cook or enjoy yourself?

Chef Michael: New American Cuisine is what I enjoy cooking and when I go out to eat I'm looking for the same.

Q: What is your background that got you into the restaurant industry?

CM: I grew up with BOTH parents in the kitchen. Mom and Dad each had their specialties and anything and everything they prepared was great, which made me comfortable with cooking. As far as the restaurant industry, I got a part-time job at a local pizza place and quickly became the manager there during High School.  When I graduated I wasn't sure what classes to study in college, I enjoyed math and decided to try out accounting, but after that first accounting class....well that is when I decided to enroll in the culinary program at Daytona State.

Q: What’s your guilty pleasure meal of choice?

CM: Wendy's Baconator and a sweet tea on the way home from work

Q: Fair enough, now where do you draw inspiration from for your menu?

CM: The usual places like books, food magazines and personal dining experiences help, but I utilize my team of chefs and cooks to bounce ideas off of.  Our current menu has several dishes and components straight from our cooks' daily inspirations.  It initiates ownership to everyone when they're involved with the menus. Our kitchen is one giant collaborative effort – there are no bad ideas!

Q: What is your favorite ingredient to work with?

CM: Salt

Q: That just might be mine too...If you could have any one person in the world dine at your restaurant who would it be and why?

CM: Gordon Ramsey – His TV personality aside, I respect his honesty. I admire the fact that he cooks what I consider “real food” and does not try to be pretentious or over the top, just basic, satisfying cuisine.

Q: How do you like to spend your time off?

CM: I love spending time with my wife and two daughters. We love the beach so living here is the perfect situation for us, we get a vacation any day we want it! We also love to go to the theme parks and have had some fantastic culinary experiences there. My personal hobbies include bowling, football and basketball and an occasional day on the golf course.  Really, anything to do with sports!

Q: One dish Azure diners can’t miss out on?

CM: At lunch, THE Grilled Cheese and at Dinner, Azure Crab Cakes. You will have to try them both to see why!

Q: Bucket list travel destination?

CM: They may not be exotic destinations but my bucket list would include a tour of the top five restaurants in the top five U.S. cities.

Q: Feel free to take us along when that happens...and lastly, what is one thing you want people to know about Azure?

CM: We are more than a hotel restaurant, we are a “local favorite” featuring an upscale dining experience that just happens to be inside a hotel!

If you're somehow not enticed by now, don't just take my word for it, go experience your own staycation at The Shores and you'll be thanking me when you do ;)

The Shores Resort & Spa | (386) 767-7350 2637 | S Atlantic Avenue, Daytona Beach Shores, Florida