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Innovative menu at Paso's In Bloom is a collaboration between culinary heavyweights

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With similar big-city backgrounds and philosophies about fine food, In Bloom proprietor Chris Haisma and Executive Chef Kenny Seliger were destined to meet.

"We crossed paths by chance and immediately hit it off," Haisma said. "He having spent time in New York City and I in Chicago, we could relate to each other."

The end result was the launch of In Bloom restaurant at Paso Market Walk in February.

Chicagoans Haisma and his wife, Nicole, helm the upscale eatery, while Seliger, originally from Germany, leads the kitchen staff.

CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’ In Bloom co-owners Chris and Nicole Haisma, wine collectors and longtime fans of the Central Coast, left Chicago for Paso’s oak-studded hills in 2020, then opened their dream dining establishment in 2022. - PHOTOS COURTESY OF IN BLOOM
  • PHOTOS COURTESY OF IN BLOOM
  • CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’ In Bloom co-owners Chris and Nicole Haisma, wine collectors and longtime fans of the Central Coast, left Chicago for Paso’s oak-studded hills in 2020, then opened their dream dining establishment in 2022.

Haisma's lengthy résumé includes Chicago establishments Gibsons and Hugo's Frog Bar, as well as several California Mastro's locations, including Beverly Hills, Newport Beach, and Costa Mesa.

"I was then recruited by Innovative Dining Group—Sushi Roku, Katana, BOA Steakhouse—to work at their flagship restaurant Katana on the Sunset Strip," Haisma said.

After a couple of years there, he opened Sushi Roku in Scottsdale, Arizona, and later joined BOKA Group in 2010 back in his hometown of Chicago, where he and chef Giuseppe Tentori opened GT Fish & Oyster. Five years later, he opened his own restaurants—The Betty and Clever Rabbit, though both have since closed due to COVID-19 shutdowns.

In 2020, the Haismas moved to Paso Robles with big dreams—both personally and professionally.

The wine aficionados had been visiting the Central Coast regularly for nearly 15 years and had developed many long-term friendships with locals, winemakers, and fellow restaurateurs.

"[We] fell in love with the area and hoped to someday plant permanent roots here," Haisma said.

Seliger, meanwhile, left Germany for Los Angeles at a young age. His culinary career spans both U.S. coasts, most notably Bouchon, Per Se, and Breslin in New York, and Henry's in Huntington Beach.

Around the same time the Haismas moved to the Central Coast, Seliger followed suit, attracted to its family-friendly lifestyle and career opportunities.

PASSIONATE ABOUT PRODUCE Chef Kenny Seliger’s eventual full-sleeve food tattoo kicks off with carrots, “which are instrumental in cooking,” he said. “They are often overlooked and not taken seriously, but … cook [someone] the perfect carrot and see their reaction.” - PHOTOS COURTESY OF IN BLOOM
  • PHOTOS COURTESY OF IN BLOOM
  • PASSIONATE ABOUT PRODUCE Chef Kenny Seliger’s eventual full-sleeve food tattoo kicks off with carrots, “which are instrumental in cooking,” he said. “They are often overlooked and not taken seriously, but … cook [someone] the perfect carrot and see their reaction.”

"The food scene here I believe will go through a nice boom with a lot of new chefs and hospitality-driven people moving to the area," he said.

Following a stint as executive chef at Hotel Cerro in San Luis Obispo, Seliger and his executive sous chef Ron Frazier, who also worked with Seliger at Henry's, connected with Haisma. Eventually, In Bloom sprouted.

Haisma and Seliger are all about farm-fresh ingredients, treating their staff with respect, and wowing customers.

They are succeeding on all fronts.

The constantly changing menu captures the freshest local ingredients of the season. A primarily shared-plates concept—offering everything from produce to seafood and steak—is complemented by an extensive curated wine list, rotating cocktail creations, and the recently launched Birds & Bubbles option on Sundays.

The special menu features bottle and half-bottle purchases of select Champagne and sparkling wines to enjoy with gratis fried chicken and accompaniments for the table.

Guests can crank up the heat with Seliger's popular "fu@king hot" sauce, according to the label. The homemade blend of chilis and spices may one day be available for take-home purchase.

Stay tuned for future winemaker dinners as well. But don't get used to the menu.

"We change [it] multiple times a week depending on what's coming from the farms and farmers' markets any given day," Haisma said. "Guests dine with us multiple times a week because they know they will be able to try something new every time."

PERFECT PAIRING In Bloom’s new Birds & Bubbles Sunday concept pairs a selection of Champagnes with lightly breaded fried chicken. Creamy cucumber yogurt, zesty slaw, and homemade hot sauce seal the deal. - PHOTO BY CHERISH WHYTE
  • PHOTO BY CHERISH WHYTE
  • PERFECT PAIRING In Bloom’s new Birds & Bubbles Sunday concept pairs a selection of Champagnes with lightly breaded fried chicken. Creamy cucumber yogurt, zesty slaw, and homemade hot sauce seal the deal.

Seliger and Frazier never stay idle.

"Kenny and I have worked together a long time, and we share a similar vision," Frazier said. "At Henry's we changed our menu 85 times between May and January of our opening year.

"We manage our menu in what we call 'micro-seasonal.' The second something is no longer at its best, we move on. Produce is the star of our dishes; meat or animal products generally play a supporting role."

Haisma and Seliger also value their staff members, which translates to a supportive, upbeat atmosphere that trickles down to customers.

"Seasonality and sustainability are my focus when building a menu, [but] not just sustainability from a food standpoint," Seliger explained. "Sustainability for my cooks is something that is deeply important to me.

"I truly believe the restaurant world is a little backward in the way cooks are paid and treated. The education of cooks is rarely taken seriously. They tend to be overworked and underpaid, leading to mass burnout," he continued. "If the industry is to grow and become stronger and recover from 2020, we need to invest in our career restaurant people, and, to be fair, that goes for both front- and back-of-house employees."

Haisma concurs and keeps the restaurant vibe uplifting for all.

"A résumé is never the driving force when I'm interviewing someone because we can teach someone about food and wine, but can't teach someone to be nice," he said. "Great hospitality comes from people that genuinely mean it, and that's what it takes to bring a high level of service to our guests on a nightly basis."

In addition to exceptional service, guests are treated to a "stylish and airy" space filled with plants and custom artwork—"equal parts breezy California with a city twist," Haisma said.

The spacious 3,000-square-foot establishment, featuring floor-to-ceiling sliding doors, includes two patios, a full bar, and seating for 125 patrons, Haisma said.

You can also request specialty cocktails named for the staff's favorite songs.

Haisma's favorite is the Led Zeppelin-inspired The Rover—a blend of vodka, elderflower liqueur, freshly squeezed grapefruit, and lime.

"This drink engages all your senses and turns heads in the dining room," Haisma said. "Guests pop an elderflower smoke bubble, which releases a fragrant haze over the glass before sipping."

Haisma and Seliger are excited for guests to visit their new restaurant and experience what's blooming on their plates.

"[Seliger] and I look at hospitality the same way and both believe in Paso Robles," Haisma added. "We want to be a part of its incredible community and growth." Δ

Flavor Writer Cherish Whyte is thrilled that In Bloom has planted roots in Paso. Reach her at [email protected].

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