- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
- SAY IT WITH FOOD : Photographer Steve E. Miller took it upon himself to try these recipes himself, with favorable results. Here are his notes: I'd like to note that if you are not a professional chef, you should set aside at least 90 minutes for prep of the dishes and the best bet is to make the peach lemonade first as it can be set aside to chill while the other two dishes are being made. I ended up making the fondue second as it can be stored on a double boiler without adverse affect until the mussels are finished. You end up with a lot of fondue, so I'd cut the recipe down to half amounts if you're serving only two people which the mussels and lemonade are seemingly portioned out for. Either way, it tasted perfectly fine in the end. Lastly, I messed up when I was in the store and I didn't buy the red grape tomatoes because I read it as red grapes only. With apologies to Chef Kobayashi, I used chopped Roma tomatoes and way more garlic than he called for. All in all, the recipes enabled me to create the dishes accurately and in the process I learned some fundamental cooking things like making simple syrup and roux.
Early in 1996, I relocated here from San Francisco where I was part of that vibrant food and wine scene for 10 years. At first, I whined constantly that the culinary scene here was woefully behind. The two restaurants people recommended constantly were chef Bill Hoppe’s, now Hoppe’s Garden Bistro run by the deceased chef’s family, and chef Ian McPhee’s Grill in Templeton. Otherwise, most upscale restaurants around the county were Italian. They were very good, undoubtedly. But we had a multitude of small mom and pop places that were nothing like the casual yet great dining I had enjoyed in the city. Slowly but surely, the blossoming wine industry began attracting more chefs to SLO County. Although I was impatient over the fact that it didn’t happen sooner, I love the way our community has grown. We have so much more to choose from in casual eateries and elegant dining rooms throughout the county.
Little did I know when I started writing for New Times in June of 1996, that chef Laurent Grangien was already planning to open his fabulous French bistro in Paso Robles. Oh, we had other talented chefs come here, attracted by the growing wine industry but they lacked the vision of Grangien. Many took over local hotel kitchens, some started new restaurants, but they were short-timers. Finally, we started getting new chefs who had worked in upscale restaurants in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Napa Valley, and who relished the idea of living in wine country and working closely with farmers throughout SLO County. Indeed, the new interest in artisan foods, and chefs supporting local farms is a trend happening across America.
Among our most successful new chefs, who established eateries of the caliber you’d expect in major cities, were: chef Pandee Pearson who started at Windows on the Water in Morro Bay, chef Evan Treadwell who opened Lido eight years ago, and chef Chris Kobayashi who teamed with his brother Mike Kobayashi to create Artisan in Paso Robles. While I was sorry to lose Treadwell in June to the Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort near Denver, Colorado, Lido is now in the capable hands of chef Brian Collins, Treadwell’s sous chef the first three years. Pearson has moved twice in the past decade: she started Adelina’s in Nipomo a few years ago, and now she’s reestablishing one of our oldest resorts as a destination for fine cuisine once again.
Pearson recently became Executive Chef at the Gardens of Avila Restaurant in the Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort in Avila Valley. I asked Pearson what she thinks has jumpstarted Americans’ appetite. She was quick to credit the Food Network and the Internet. “The food scene is changing everywhere as the public becomes more educated about food. Even if they don’t own a lot of cookbooks, they can get recipes online, and they’re starting to cook at home again. They no longer make dining out about the expense,” Pearson explained. “People are also getting away from chain restaurants and eating healthier.” A longtime supporter of our Farmers’ Markets, she has also established an herb and vegetable garden onsite for the restaurant.
Chef Chris Kobayashi brought on loads of new interest in SLO County cuisine from people across the nation when he recently received the nomination by the James Beard Foundation as the Best Chef in the West. He was the first south Central Coast chef (SLO and Santa Barbara counties) to earn this prestigious nomination. When asked what he thinks may have made more Americans become food savvy, he credited ethnic cuisine:
“Accessibility to food from different cultures has provided Americans more opportunities to try different cuisines. Our country has such varied growing regions that we are able to grow, produce, and have access to so many different items,” the passionate chef explained. “More importantly, America is made up of so many cultures and the influences of all these people have made Americans more savvy in general.”
The chef modestly told me it’s too early to compare our dining scene to San Francisco or L.A. But the Kobayashis have established a contemporary restaurant of excellent quality, and it has earned the respect of locals and wine country visitors who fill this busy restaurant nightly. He believes we need more chefs to take interest in relocating here to open restaurants.
“We need chefs to recognize the full potential of this area and come here,” he explained. “I have lived and worked in both San Francisco and Napa, and there’s no doubt this area has better accessibility to produce, ranches, etc. This county is a perfect model for sustainability.”
Mike Kobayashi, co-owner and dining room manager of Artisan, agrees that we need more restaurant choices.
“We need more eateries, of all genres and price ranges, to come in and push the creative envelope. Competition harbors growth,” he pointed out.
I asked which eateries made a difference here and he cited Bistro Laurent, Villa Creek, and Cass House for their contribution to the evolving Central Coast culinary scene.
“These three restaurants have undeniably made a difference in Paso Robles: Bistro Laurent for chef Laurent Grangien’s leap of faith in coming here so early on to give the north county its first true fine dining restaurant; Villa Creek and its owner Cris Cherry for their history and continued commitment to sourcing the right products for their clientele; and the Cass House for its beautiful new approach to fine dining and providing a top notch dining experience. Team Lorenzen’s true passion for food and wine is evident and executed on a nightly basis,” he said.
I emphatically agreed with him. As the restaurant industry grows it will help the community in so many ways, from every level of the hospitality industry to the wineries and artisan farms.
“Growth in the restaurants opening here will give diners more reasons and options when they return to our area,” Kobayashi continued. “Several key winemakers have done their share of bringing in experienced palates [renowned chefs who come from all over the country to cook at winemakers’ dinners]; it’s up to the culinary side here to keep up. This is the only way the Central Coast will become a dining destination.”
Contact New Times’ Cuisine columnist at email@example.com.
Chef Chris Kobayashi of Artisan
(serves two as an appetizer or one as an entrée)
16 oz. mussels, cleaned and debearded
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 large shallot, sliced
10 red grape tomatoes, halved
1 cup dry white wine
4 tablespoons butter, cubed
5 large basil leaves
Salt and red chili flake to taste
Prepare all ingredients ahead. Next, heat a large heavy-bottomed pot with a tight fitting lid on high heat until very hot. Add all of the ingredients to the pot, cover, and cook until all of the mussels open, stirring occasionally. When mussels have opened, taste to adjust seasonings, pour into a large bowl and serve immediately.
Artisan’s Smoked Gouda and Porter Fondue
4 ounces butter
1/4 cup and 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
(melt butter and whisk flour in, cook five minutes stirring constantly to make roux)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 cups Porter (we use Anchor Steam)
3 cups heavy cream
12 ounces white cheddar, cut into small chunks
12 ounces smoked Gouda cheese
Tabasco to taste
salt and pepper to taste
In a large saucepan, make roux as stated above and then add the Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, porter, and cream. Take care to stir and not allow the sauce to boil.
After all the liquid ingredients have been incorporated fully add the cheese in small chunks, whisking continually to keep the sauce from boiling or breaking.
Once the sauce has been incorporated taste and season with Tabasco, salt, and pepper. Strain Sauce and hold in double boiler.
The chef serves this with garlic toast, andouille sausage, and broccolini but anything you like to dip in cheese works. Yields slightly over 2 quarts.
Chef Pandee Pearson of Gardens of Avila at Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort
1 cup fresh squeezed Meyer lemon juice (8-10 medium lemons)
5 ripe peaches skinned, pitted and pureed
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, finely grated
1 cup simple syrup (recipe follows)
2 1/2 cups cold water
6 sprigs fresh mint
4 sprigs lemon verbena (optional)
1 lemon cut into round slices to garnish
Combine fresh lemon juice, pureed peaches, grated ginger, simple syrup, and water together and stir well. Adjust the sweetness to your taste. The simple syrup recipe below will give you an extra additional half-cup for people who like their lemonade sweeter. Strain mixture through large mesh strainer, then pour strained lemonade over ice in a pitcher. Add a few sprigs of mint and lemon verbena to lemonade and allow to steep before serving. Serve lemonade in large glasses filled with ice. Garnish with lemon rounds, lemon verbena, and mint sprigs. To make it an adult beverage, Chef Pandee also enjoys it with some vodka, which you can add to your taste.
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
Heat sugar and water just enough to dissolve the sugar. Cool before using.