Friday, May 31, 2013

Living Tea Service

There is nothing better than the smell of a fresh picked lemon verbena leaf or chamomile flower.  This morning while walking up to the ridge I plucked a verbena leaf from the garden and rubbed it between my fingers.  As the bright lemon aroma filled the air I thought how incredible it would be to offer a living tea service at Sierra Mar, where guests could pick their own fresh herbs and experience them at their peak aroma.

Here is a rough draft of the idea…. Now we just have to make it a reality.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Soft Shell Crabs

We just got in the first soft shell crabs of the season.  I have fond memories of eating soft shells on the Gulf Coast as a child.  Along with ramps, fava beans and morels, these fleeting delicacies are among my favorite Spring ingredients.

Tonight I prepared the soft shells in a light almond batter with Castelveltrano Olive-Padron Pepper Sauce and a variety of Sorrel Leaves from the garden.  The acidity from the sorrel leaves pairs perfectly with the salinity of the crab and gentle heat of the roasted padrons.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Cooking for Solutions with Vikram Vij

Sierra Mar was recently honored to help sponsor the annual Cooking for Solution at Monterey Bay Aquarium.  Sierra Mar and Post Ranch Inn have long been advocates for sustainability and conservation, so the event is something we are passionate about.

This year we hosted Chef Vikram Vij from Vancouver.  Chef Vikram has three restaurants in Canada as well as two popular cookbooks and a line of spices and curries.  Each year he makes a pilgrimage to India to hand select spices that will go into his proprietary curries.  Classically trained in Austria, Vikram is one of the few chefs who has taken traditional Indian food to such a refined level.  For the event he prepared Pacific Halibut seasoned with dried green mango on a black garbanzo bean curry.  He was also gracious enough to prepare a pot of chicken curry for our kitchen team.

Following the event I took Vikram into Carmel Valley to check out some local vineyards.  He was very impressed with the ingredients and wines available around Monterey Bay.  Working with Vikram was a real pleasure and I hope to have him back to Post Ranch soon for a collaborative dinner.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Octopus and New Plates by Shelby Hawthorne

This week we got our first delivery of plates from Shelby Hawthorne.  Shelby is a glass artist from Big Sur who is making custom glass plates and art pieces at her studio in Sand City.  When I first saw Shelby's work a few months ago I was intrigued by the effects that she achieved by firing different elements into the pieces of glass.  The finished plates had an incandescence about them that reminded me of tidal pools and abalone shells.  While too much pattern can take away from the presentation of a dish, Shelby created a series of plates that reflect her unique styling, while leaving a blank area for presenting the food.  I'm really happy with the way the first batch turned out and think it makes a stunning backdrop for a number of seafood appetizers.

Chef Ono has prepared a Baby Octopus with Riesling Marinated Apricots, Charred Shallot, Avocado and Black Sesame.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Fog Front

Many Big Sur locals have gained a reputation for their unruly driving habits on Highway One.  As summer approaches and droves of oversized camper rentals take to the road, you can see the frustration on driver's faces as they follow a line of slow moving cars, craning their necks for any possible passing opportunity.  I have found that the best remedy for slow drivers is good radio and I try to enjoy my daily commute from Monterey while catching up on news and stories from NPR.  Sometimes this lackadaisical attitude results in good photo opportunities along the way.  A few nights ago there was an incredible wall of fog billowing off hurricane point with its Southern tip cresting like a wave over the Big Sur lighthouse.  I think from now on I will make a point to make my real camera another commuting essential.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Quail Egg

One of the local quail found its way into the Sierra Mar garden and laid a tiny egg below our patch of redwood strawberries.  Luckily one quail egg doesn't go very far at the restaurant - so this one will remain sheltered in the garden.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Onion Scapes

Anton just harvested a beautiful bunch of Vidalia Onion scapes for tonight's dinner menu!  The young scrapes are quite versatile and can be either grilled or sautéed.  They have a texture reminiscent of asparagus and a mild onion flavor.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Carrot Cavatelli

A fresh harvest of carrots from the garden inspired me to dust off the pasta machine and work on some fresh cavatelli.  When done right, cavatelli is a thick-shell shaped pasta that is simultaneously dense and lite, somewhere between a gnocchi and rustic rolled pasta.  The ingredients can be as simple as flour and water, and the trick is to create a dough that does not get stuck in the rolling machine, but is also not too dry.  Once you have achieved the right ratio, making cavatelli is quick, easy and delicious.

Here's a quick video clip showing how the pasta is made.

I wanted the pasta to be dark orange, just like the freshly harvested carrots.  To do this I juiced the carrots and brought the juice to a gentle simmer, removing the orange froth as it formed on the top of the pot.  We drained this orange froth through a coffee filter and used the resulting paste to flavor and color the dough.  The carrot liquid that was left behind smelled and tasted like carrot juice, but was completely clear like consommé.  With the addition of a little balsamic, lemon verbena leaves and sea salt, this makes a perfect broth for the finished dish.

Once the cavatelli are rolled, we store them in a single layer so they don’t stick to each other.  After three minutes in simmering, salted water we transfer the pasta to a pan full of sautéed morels, fresh garden peas and ramps.  The pasta is then transferred to a presentation bowl and the broth is warmed in a small cast iron tea pot and steeped with fresh lemon verbena leaves.  At the table the dish is finished with the herb infused broth and fresh parmesan.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Back To The Beginning

I have almost been at Post Ranch Inn for a full year.  Each day when I walk from the lower part of the property to the top of the ridge where Sierra Mar is perched, I pass dozens of California Bay Laurel.   If you have been reading this blog you may have seen mention of the bay fruit, bay nuts or pickled bay blossoms.  I can't help stopping momentarily at the giant trees to pinch a few leaves between my fingers and release their enigmatic aroma.  This week has brought a new phase of transformation, tiny green and red leaf shoots that are so tender you can eat them like lettuce and mild enough to only leave a trace of aromatic bay on your palate.  Tiny green fruits are beginning to emerge, and there are only a few more weeks until the trees return to the same state they were in when I first arrived. 
Will these incredible trees have any more surprises in store for me?

Thursday, May 2, 2013


Last week our Pastry Chef, Yulanda Santos, found some inspiration from Mugaritz in Spain.  Armed with a bunch of fresh beets and an aquarium pump she set out to make bubbles.  I think we were all a bit skeptical about this whole experiment - but I must admit, the final presentation was stunning. She featured the beet bubbles on a local goat cheese parfait.  Now I just need to decide how long I need to wait before borrowing this technique for some savory applications!