Morsels: 7 Days to EAT – A week of great bites in OC

The OC sizzles in the summertime. Enjoy each day eating and drinking at sweet, gluten-free spots. Pig out on buzz-worthy vegan ice cream – made with sweet tomatoes – from Salt & Straw at Downtown Disney. Get your boba-fix filled with an artisanal strawberry coconut milk green tea at Omomo in Irvine. Or, need other sweet suggestions? Start here:

 

  • MARGARITA MONDAY: Toast to Las Brisas’ 40th anniversary with the Laguna Beach restaurant’s signature margarita. :: lasbrisaslagunabeach.com Photography by istock

  • TACO TUESDAY: Taco Mesa and Taco Rosa serve traditional Valencia-style horchatas made with organic tiger nuts. :: tacomesa.com

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  • WHISKEY AND WAGYU WEDNESDAY: A wagyu and whiskey tasting menu takes over midweek at Nobu Newport Beach, Lido Marina Village. :: https://noburestaurants.com/newportbeach/home/

  • THIRSTY THURSDAY: Thursdays are for high rollers who sip Hennessy V.S. by Felipe Pantone; the artist-designed bottle intended for collectors and connoisseurs is now available at Hi-Times. (Photography courtesy of Hennessy.com )

  • FRIDAY FUN: Another reason to luxuriate in the lobby: Montage Laguna Beach unveiled its afternoon tea service with delectable sandwiches combined with a lovely view of the Pacific. :: montage.com

  • SATURDAY SUMMER SKOOP: Nekter Juice Bar’s dairy-free frozen Skoop is a great way to chill out this summer.
    Flavors include s’more and an orange offering made with coconut milk. Both are available for a limited time. :: nekter.com

  • SWEET SUNDAY: Two Costa Mesa friends created Lavender Lane Baking Co. to feed the need for delectable gluten-free and paleo-friendly desserts. The dark chocolate gluten-free brownies won our office taste test. :: lavenderlanebakingco.com

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Taste: In the kitchen with chef Pascal Olhats

If there is a godfather of French cuisine and fine dining in Orange County, it is Chef Pascal Olhats.

For more than 30 years (“I came as a tourist and I feel I am still on vacation,” Olhats says) the chef has provided reliably authentic and appropriately innovative cooking in the now classic French style of nouvelle cuisine. His mastery comes well-earned, having served under the legendary creator of the style, Chef Paul Bocuse, in Lyon, France.

Having recently sold his branch of Pascal in San Juan Capistrano, Olhats remains at Café Jardin, the elegant outdoor bistro located on the grounds of the Sherman Library & Gardens in Corona del Mar. Typically serving sophisticated lunch and weekend brunch menus, the café launched a series of special Sunday evening prix fixe dinners in June.

On this occasion we encountered the esteemed chef at his cozy home in Tustin on a rain-spattered day in May. Diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma in November, Olhats had just returned home from a stay at City of Hope, where he had undergone a successful bone marrow transplant. Nonetheless, he greeted us with hale vigor and good humor as he welcomed us into his home.

Across from the stove in the kitchen an impressive mise en place had been set out on a square standing butcher’s block. Freshly diced tomatoes; whole garlic cloves blanched in milk and roasted; chopped Nicoise olives; a tangled mélange of parsley, thyme, rosemary, and tarragon – all clues as to what’s for lunch: chicken breasts Provençal accompanied by a rich potato gratin, prepared with a casual deftness in the chef’s own kitchen. C’est formidable!

Chef Pascal Olhats sizzles with summer dishes at Sherman Library & Gardens.

Textbook French nouvelle cuisine? Bien sûr! This recipe is in fact redacted from Olhats’ course at Saddleback College, where he has taught for many years.

 

Café Jardin/Sherman Library & Gardens2647 Pacific Coast Highway, Corona Del Mar

:: slgardens.org

 

CHICKEN BREAST À LA PROVENÇAL

INGREDIENTS

4 bone-in 8 oz. chicken breasts

2 tomatoes peeled, seeded and diced

16 garlic cloves (blanched in boiling milk for 5 minutes and roasted in foil for 15 minutes)

6 oz. black olives, pitted and halved

10 oz. chicken stock

4 oz. dry chardonnay

2 oz. extra virgin olive oil

Fresh herbs: chopped thyme, rosemary, parsley and tarragon

salt & pepper

 

METHOD

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Sauté the chicken skin-side down in olive oil.

Remove fat from the pan. Turn the chicken skin side up. Add diced tomatoes, garlic, olives, and fresh herbs (reserving some for garnish). Add the wine and stock.

Braise the chicken in the oven for about 12 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the pan and reduce sauce to 1/3.

Plate the chicken and pour sauce over the breasts. Garnish with remaining herbs and serve.

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Taste: In the kitchen with Café Jardin at Sherman Library & Gardens’ chef Pascal Olhats

If there is a godfather of French cuisine and fine dining in Orange County, it is Chef Pascal Olhats.

For more than 30 years (“I came as a tourist and I feel I am still on vacation,” Olhats says) the chef has provided reliably authentic and appropriately innovative cooking in the now classic French style of nouvelle cuisine. His mastery comes well-earned, having served under the legendary creator of the style, Chef Paul Bocuse, in Lyon, France.

Having recently sold his branch of Pascal in San Juan Capistrano, Olhats remains at Café Jardin, the elegant outdoor bistro located on the grounds of the Sherman Library & Gardens in Corona del Mar. Typically serving sophisticated lunch and weekend brunch menus, the café launched a series of special Sunday evening prix fixe dinners in June.

On this occasion we encountered the esteemed chef at his cozy home in Tustin on a rain-spattered day in May. Diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma in November, Olhats had just returned home from a stay at City of Hope, where he had undergone a successful bone marrow transplant. Nonetheless, he greeted us with hale vigor and good humor as he welcomed us into his home.

Across from the stove in the kitchen an impressive mise en place had been set out on a square standing butcher’s block. Freshly diced tomatoes; whole garlic cloves blanched in milk and roasted; chopped Nicoise olives; a tangled mélange of parsley, thyme, rosemary, and tarragon – all clues as to what’s for lunch: chicken breasts Provençal accompanied by a rich potato gratin, prepared with a casual deftness in the chef’s own kitchen. C’est formidable!

Chef Pascal Olhats sizzles with summer dishes at Sherman Library & Gardens.

Textbook French nouvelle cuisine? Bien sûr! This recipe is in fact redacted from Olhats’ course at Saddleback College, where he has taught for many years.

 

Café Jardin/Sherman Library & Gardens2647 Pacific Coast Highway, Corona Del Mar

:: slgardens.org

 

CHICKEN BREAST À LA PROVENÇAL

INGREDIENTS

4 bone-in 8 oz. chicken breasts

2 tomatoes peeled, seeded and diced

16 garlic cloves (blanched in boiling milk for 5 minutes and roasted in foil for 15 minutes)

6 oz. black olives, pitted and halved

10 oz. chicken stock

4 oz. dry chardonnay

2 oz. extra virgin olive oil

Fresh herbs: chopped thyme, rosemary, parsley and tarragon

salt & pepper

 

METHOD

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Sauté the chicken skin-side down in olive oil.

Remove fat from the pan. Turn the chicken skin side up. Add diced tomatoes, garlic, olives, and fresh herbs (reserving some for garnish). Add the wine and stock.

Braise the chicken in the oven for about 12 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the pan and reduce sauce to 1/3.

Plate the chicken and pour sauce over the breasts. Garnish with remaining herbs and serve.

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Morsels: Seeing Michelin stars in OC and Terranea’s healthy eats

A level playing field. That’s all I’ve ever asked for. When my friends, typically cocky chefs, bragged about their Michelin star restaurants in New York, Chicago and Paris, all I could do was roll my eyes and say, “When Michelin comes to Southern California, then it’s on.” And, I was right. On June 3, Michelin presented its first all-state guide at a sunlit ceremony at Paséa Hotel & Spa in Huntington Beach. During that idyllic Orange County evening, 90 restaurants were celebrated as Michelin star recipients.

Niki Nakayama and Carole Iida-Nakayama of n/naka in Los Angeles stole the show. The duo had a big week. Netflix had just released Ali Wong’s celebrity chef-inspired romcom “Always Be My Maybe,” which utilized the kaiseki chefs’ talents as culinary consultants for the movie. Then on that evening, the couple stood on a male-dominated stage and took home two Michelin stars. “This could only happen in Southern California,” said Nakayama as tears streamed down her cheeks, her wife, Carole, standing beside her, arms intertwined and holding her close. “We have 20 people in our restaurant – 13 of them are women. We’re so proud of that,” added Carole. “The ingredients. The freedom – we could only do it here,” said Nakayama.


Chef Carlos Salgado of Taco Maria in Costa Mesa jokes around and hugs the Michelin Man mascot at the star selection for the 2019 Michelin Guide California. (Photography by Leonard Ortiz)

Carlos Salgado titillated the Michelin inspectors at Taco Maria. “The enticing scent of meat cooking over the fire and house-made heirloom masa tortillas on the griddle set the tone for an amazing experience,” stated Michelin inspectors. Taco Maria was one of two OC restaurants to receive Michelin star nods. Hana re at the Lab took home a star for chef Atsushi Yokoyama‘s refined Spartan take on sushi reverence. In total, the 2019 Michelin Guide California features 27 new restaurants with a one-star distinction, many of which have been featured in the pages of Coast. The new guide also revealed dishes to try such as pancit noodles at Irenia, paella at Vaca and Amelia’s salad at Marché Moderne. Five local spots – chef Ross Pangilinan’s Mix Mix Kitchen and Bar, Garlic & Chives, Hiro Nori Ramen, Gabbi’s Mexican Kitchen, and LSXO received Bib Gourmand recognition. The evening revealed what we’ve known all along. California is a culinary hotspot. Now, we have a nifty red guide to prove it.


Chef Atsushi Yokoyama, center, of Sushi Hana re raises his glass with other chefs after his restaurant was awarded one Michelin star. (Photography by Leonard Ortiz)

COOL COCKTAIL

The boozy S’mores Milkshake from Slater’s 50/50 combines nostalgic flavors of camping spiked with marshmallow vodka. The adult-only concoction melds vanilla ice cream, toasted marshmallow syrup, chocolate, whipped cream, marshmallow fluff and finely crushed graham crackers into one lovely glass. If you don’t get a buzz from the booze, you’ll definitely succumb to the inevitable sugar high.


The boozy S’mores Milkshake from Slater’s 50/50. (photography courtesy of ajendapr.com)

6362 E. Santa Ana Canyon Road, Anaheim Hills17071 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach:: slaters5050.com

Food Field Trip


Avocado sweet potato toast at Terranea’s solviva wellness restaurant. (photography courtesy of terranea.com)

This year Terranea celebrated its 10th anniversary and unveiled Solviva, a new wellness-driven restaurant. Chef RJ Dela Merced developed a plant-forward menu with resident nutritionist Navil Lorenzana. The dishes honor Terranea’s bounty: produce grown onsite, the surrounding kelp forest and honey by resident bees. Think: sweet potato toast topped with avocado and sprouts, seasonal crudite dipped in housemade hummus along with heartier hand-cut pappardelle covered in almond pesto and grass-fed lamb with fresh fava beans.

Breakfast at Solviva boasts the resort’s bounty. Terranea kelp-cured smoked salmon topped with tomato and onion jam, whipped cream cheese on half of a whole wheat bagel is so tasty, you’ll order two for yourself. The kelp is harvested in the wild marine forest that encircles the resort. The kelp serves two purposes. Bernard Ibarra, vice president of culinary experiences and executive chef, harvests sea salt from these waters. He gathers buckets of water and lets it evaporate in special beds; the result is local sea salt. The kelp imparts oceanic terroir while simultaneously purifying the water and improving the salt’s quality. The jams are made with fruit from the resort’s garden. Eggs from the on-site coop have psychedelic orange yolks.

The honey harvested from Terranea’s bees is served in many ways. My favorite was the Bee’s Knees cocktail, which combines artisanal gin with sweet honey. It’s the perfect way to toast the resort’s 10th anniversary.

  • Black Tiger shrimp ceviche with taro chips. (photography by Terranea)

  • Soliviva dining room. (photography by Terranea)

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  • Terranea kelp-cured smoked salmon topped with tomato and onion jam, whipped cream cheese on half of a whole wheat bagel. (photography by Jenn Tanaka)

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Taste: Chef Vic Casanova’s recipe for English pea pesto at Balboa Bay Resort’s A&O Kitchen + Bar

Chef Vic Casanova, the new executive chef at Balboa Bay Resort, is framed and backlit by the early afternoon sun beaming from the harbor into the spacious dining room of A&O Kitchen + Bar. The cascade of adjectives applies to the new menu that Casanova has recently engineered and launched here, as well as the philosophy applied to his purview over the resort’s fine dining venue, Waterline.

“It’s where we are and where we’re trying to go … My goal was to gather up a menu that is ingredient-driven and three-dimensional. The way to do that is to use bright, vivid colors and textures…” And he goes on: “I find great ingredients and let them speak for themselves.”

If they can get a word in, that is. Nothing if not energetic, genuinely enthusiastic, articulate and loquacious, Casanova has embraced his new outpost in Newport Beach with verve.

A Bronx native trained on the line at Daniel Boulud’s DB Bistro Moderne and Danny Meyer‘s storied Gramercy Tavern, Casanova arrived in Southern California ten years ago, after an extended stint at The Phoenician in Scottsdale. From the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, he opened the popular nouvelle trattoria Gusto, which Esquire named as Best New Restaurant in 2012. Initially, he moved his young family to Orange County because he realized that after 10 years in L.A., he had never seen the beach. When the opportunity opened at Balboa Bay, it seemed a natural fit. He joined the resort’s team at the end of February.

His chef de cuisine Josh Shapiro joins us as we begin to assay the ultimate purpose for our visit: to eat.

A small rectangular ceramic plate arrives at the table. Atop sits grilled ciabatta layered with English pea pesto and creamy burrata crowned with furls of delicate pea tendrils and finished with a fresh squeeze of lemon. It’s played like edible art. Soon only stray bits of crumb remain.

Have we noticed an odd preponderance of toasts and toppings on our beat of late? Yes.

Yet are we instantly weakened by anything involving burrata, let alone English peas? Again, the answer is yes! Is the combination irresistibly simple and sophisticated? You be the judge.

 

ENGLISH PEA PESTO

Ingredients:

4 cups English peas, blanched and shocked

3 cloves garlic, peeled

8 cups pea tendrils

4 tsp lemon juice

2 cups extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Place peas, garlic, salt, pepper, pea tendrils, and lemon juice into a food processor. Pulse a few times until everything is coarsely chopped.

While the food processor is running, slowly stream in olive oil and blend until everything is incorporated into a smooth pesto. Scrape down the sides of the food processor with a spatula and pulse once more to incorporate.

 

A&O KITCHEN + BAR at Balboa Bay Resort

1221 W. Coast Hwy., Newport Beach

:: balboabayresort.com

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Miley Cyrus and cult favorite flick “Tombstone” inspire a killer cocktail at Pacific Hideaway

 

Pacific Hideaway
<em>Daisy If You Do</em> mezcal cocktail at Pacific Hideaway, Kimpton Shorebreak Hotel in Huntington Beach.

There’s nothing ordinary about the cocktails at Pacific Hideaway in the Kimpton Shorebreak Hotel in Huntington Beach. Each playful libation created by lead bartender Casey Lyons doubles as an Instagramable moment. He conjured up the Dazed and Confused, a pineapple rum cocktail splashed with lime and ginger syrup. The whimsical garnish: a smoking sage and oregano joint is sparked up en route to the table.

His prickly pear mezcal margarita flushes with a flamboyant magenta. Lyons shakes the cocktail vigorously before pouring it into a clear skull-shaped glass. He garnishes it with agave cactus tips, arranging each one so the result resembles a ceremonial headdress. Looking like a brain surgeon about to operate, he pulls out a pair of large metal tweezers to pluck out a smattering of delicate edible flower blossoms to decorate the drink’s ornate top.

“It’s a Miley Cyrus nightmare,” he jests. Lyons, who previously cultivated the innovative bar program at Social in Costa Mesa, admits to drawing inspiration from pop culture and cinema for the beverages he serves at Pacific Hideaway. I’ll Be Your Huckleberry, a Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey cocktail sweetened with huckleberry-infused syrup, and the vibrant Daisy If You Do prickly pear margarita are nods to the cult-favorite 1993 “Tombstone” movie. Pacific Hideway’s bar was designed to exude a laid-back, surfers’ watering hole. A needed respite from the woes of our tech-obsessed world. It’s also a cool place for Lyons to play out his liquid daydreams.

 

DAISY IF YOU DO

Ingredients:

2 ounces Del Maguey Vida mezcal

1 ounce John D. Velvet Falernum

1 Tablespoon prickly pear syrup

½ ounce fresh squeezed lime juice

Sparkling wine

Method:

  1. Combine all ingredients with ice into a metal shaker.
  2. Shake vigorously for 30 seconds.
  3. Strain into a glass and top with sparkling wine.

 

PACIFIC HIDEAWAY 500 Pacific Coast Hwy., Huntington Beach, 714.965.4448 :: pacifichideawayhb.com

 

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Albatross Ridge winery soars with pinot noir and chardonnay Former healthcare CEO Brad Bowlus finds his second act with vintner son Garret

Brad Bowlus is a numbers guy. For three decades he climbed the ladder at the health care company PacifiCare to become CEO and transformed it into a billion-dollar organization.

Just as he was set to retire, life gave him an unexpected second act. Bowlus, who lives part time in Orange County with his wife, Jill, discovered he shared a passion for wines with his son, Garrett.

“So we ended up, the two of us, in Burgundy,” recalls Bowlus. “We discussed an approach to coming up with incredible wine. The basics we wanted to have: grand cru capabilities. The land, we wanted it untouched. We wanted to do our own development. So we searched for several years, up and down the West Coast.”

Eventually, the family found the perfect plot. The release of Albatross Ridge’s 2014 estate reserve pinot noir received a 95-point review from Wine Enthusiast, considered “a great achievement” by the magazine’s editors – an indicator the vineyard is a growing success.

But while Bowlus is indeed a numbers guy, even he can’t calculate the odds of this coincidence.

According to Bowlus, his grandfather William Hawley Bowlus trained as an engineer and helped pioneer the piloting of sailplanes. In the Smithsonian hang his gliders that flew off the ridgetops of Carmel’s coast in the 1930s. Eight decades later, Brad and Garrett were searching for a name for the their vineyard and discovered an old book on Monterey history. On its last page, they found a photo of William Hawley Bowlus launching his Albatross sailplane off the same mountain slopes where they planted their vineyard.

Coincidence – or destiny?

“It affirmed everything we had been working so hard to achieve.” Bowlus’ voice rings as he describes it.

Coast caught up with Bowlus before he retreated to Carmel, eager to get back to his vines. “I can’t tell you how pretty the vineyard looks, when all the wildflowers are out in the springtime,” he says. “Looking through the rows of the vines as they are starting to bud and the foliage is growing – that’s a really magical time up there.”

Coast: How did you and Garrett find Albatross Ridge’s location?

Brad Bowlus: We only wanted to grow chardonnay and pinot noir, which are our two favorite wines. So the climate and the heat limited us. We needed a cool climate.  We wanted to find an ideal site that was capable of producing a grand cru-quality wine. We were just lucky to find this land, 244 acres. It was listed as open land; just build your dream home.

Coast: Take us back to that inaugural vintage. Describe tasting that first bottle.

BB: We did a family-and-friends production in 2010. But our first real release was 2011. We’re on our fourth release now. We had an inclination that things were going well. We did some tastings along the way from the barrel. In terms of the balance we were looking for with acidity and fruit, the structure was there. The bones were there, and we were very pleased. It excited us.

Coast: What makes your wines unique?

BB: We do small-batch fermentation. Every plot is fermented individually. We don’t do blended fermentation; there is no manipulation in terms of making the wine. We want you to taste the terroir, the land; you taste our vineyard. It is blessed with rare diatomaceous, limestone and shale soils similar to those found in Burgundy. The quality of our fruit is remarkable.

Sometimes you get chardonnay that’s overexposed to oak or has that tobacco taste, which can be an issue. Certainly some people like it on the palate, but we’re finding that more people are looking for a balanced approach. We make wine that pairs well with food.

Coast: Tell us more about that.

BB: We’ve done events with Cucina Enoteca, both at the Irvine location. We look forward to doing more. We’re currently tripling the size of our tasting room in downtown Carmel. So while that’s growing, we’re receptive about doing wine dinners in Orange County. We hosted Bentley up on the vineyard last year for the North American unveiling of their electric car. We have a great location and we overlook the ocean. So they sought us out!

:: albatrossridge.com

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Learn a Marché Moderne recipe

Elation, relief and amused surprise all accompanied our recent visit to Marché Moderne in its new location at Crystal Cove, like the feeling of running into an old friend you’d lost track of when they moved.

A stalwart institution at South Coast Plaza for 10 years, Marché Moderne closed in January. Florent Marneau and wife Amelia – a Cordon Bleu-trained pastry chef – accrued a loyal cadre of diners and stellar reviews. When they evolved the restaurant, they retained management staff and made a research trip to Northern California that included a visit to the Michelin three-star Quince.

In September the Marneaus reopened the restaurant in a quiet corner of Crystal Cove Shopping Center. The elegantly appointed space includes an arbored terrace that benefits from sea breezes and golden-hour sunlight. This is where we find the chef bustling over our featured dish, braised veal and lobster blanquette, an apt reflection of Marneau’s sensibility and the restaurant’s transformation.

No ordinary blanquette has been so mindfully fussed over as Chef Marneau’s. Typically a comforting veal stew in white sauce, this dish is elevated into haute terroir by fresh lobster, vin jaune and golden chanterelles from Oregon.

“It’s very much us. It’s the old world with something new,” Marneau says as he executes a final touch prior to the dish’s star turn for the camera.

The dish delivers the soothing savor of a blanquette à l’ancienne and a delightful play between firm, sweet lobster chunks and meltingly tender veal morsels. This could be the most sophisticated surf ’n’ turf plate one could imagine. Indeed, an old friend has returned.

Braised Veal and Lobster Blanquette

Lobster:

Boil two 1 ¼-pound lobsters for 8 minutes.  Cool in ice bath, extract meat from tail and claws, and reserve shells and heads for sauce.

Veal:

Roughly chop a halved onion, one carrot, one leek and one celery stalk. Add to pot with  1-pound boneless veal shoulder, cleaned and cut into large cubes.  Cover with white wine and water and simmer until tender.  Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

 

Lobster Sauce

Shells of two lobsters

Cold water

1 teaspoon butter

½ onion, diced

1 shallot, diced

1 teaspoon sliced garlic

1 cup of vin jaune or white wine

1 teaspoon tomato paste

2 cups potatoes, peeled and diced

3-4 sprigs, fresh tarragon

2 cups heavy cream

½ cup good Armagnac or cognac

Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, melt butter and add lobster shells, onion and shallots.  Sweat mixture for 10 minutes then add garlic and wine. Reduce for 5 minutes, then add tomato paste, tarragon, potatoes and  cold water to the level of the shells.

Bring to a boil and simmer for 1 hour. Strain and reduce by half.  Add cognac, reduce another 10 minutes then add cream.  Bring to simmer for 10 minutes. Check seasoning.  Consistency should be of a lobster bisque.

Assembly: Sauté a few chanterelles and season to taste. Sauté lobster meat in butter for 3 to 5 minutes and season to taste.

In a serving bowl, pour sauce, place cube of veal in sauce, then lobster and chanterelle, and garnish with tarragon.

Serves four.

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The Blind Pig’s Alexander is great

The Brandy Alexander cocktail sips like a cognac-kissed milk shake. A whisper of crème de cacao blends with freshly grated nutmeg. But, there’s a trick to making this sweet dessert drink. According to The Blind Pig’s bar manager Ryan Autry, the silky, heavy whipped cream that finishes the cocktail must be hand-shaken to order.

At The Blind Pig in Rancho Santa Margarita, Autry and his team enjoy dissecting what you enjoy imbibing. The goal is to mix the perfect cocktail, suited just for your palette. “We like to think of ourselves as anthropologists or social scientists,” says Autry. “What flavors do you like? What liquors do you normally order and what herbs or ingredients do you gravitate to when it comes to cocktails? Are you into ginger? How about bitters? The more we know about you, the better the drink we can concoct.”

The Blind Pig’s Modern Brandy Alexander began as a bartender’s challenge. “A woman came in and requested a classic Brandy Alexander,” Autry says. “It’s a simple drink, but then I put our spin on it. We added crème de cacao-infused cream and hand whipped each one. Now, every time she comes in, I know she’ll order our Brandy Alexander. She told me we sort of ruined this drink for her because we do it so well.”

Modern Brandy Alexander 

1 oz. Hennessy VSOP Cognac Brandy

1½ oz. dark créme de cacao*

1 oz. heavy cream

½ oz. Benedictine

A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

*Reserve ½ oz créme de cacao for whipped cream.

Shake liquor with ice. Strain and pour into a chilled coupe glass. Whip cream with Benedictine and
remaining cr¯me de cacao. Float cream on top
and sprinkle with nutmeg.

The Blind Pig, 31431 Santa Margarita Pkwy,
Rancho Santa Margarita, 949.888.0072 :: blindpigoc.com

 

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Breaking the cycle of poverty one meal at a time

 

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A vivid red food truck summoned children from the playground at a Santa Ana after-school program with a loud burst of its distinctive horn: Aah-oooh-gah. A burly, bearded guy with a clean-shaven head steered Betsy, his 1986 truck, into a nearby parking lot where portable tables were set for dinner under pop-up tents.

Chef Bill Bracken had come to serve free, hot meals and take-home add-ons that he and a corps of volunteers prepared for the children and their families, all homeless or hungry, or often, both.

Betsy may be the most visible element of Bracken’s Kitchen, an innovative hunger-relief program started in 2013 by the former luxury hotel executive chef. The truck is one of a trio of services that also includes a recovered-food program and, coming soon, chef
training that gives at-risk youth culinary job skills while they provide Bracken’s Kitchen with labor assistance.

Together, they create a virtuous circle that feeds the hungry while giving farmers an incentive to harvest surplus and imperfect crops, reducing the environmental impact of food trash and eliminating prepared food waste. In 2017, Bracken’s Kitchen made more than 40,000 meals for Orange County residents who struggle daily to survive.

The program is notable because it introduced a new concept to hunger relief operations – the food recovery kitchen. “We feel that our trio of services is a unique combination that nobody has done before,” says Bracken. “Add to that the creation of our Recovered Food Production Kitchen, which takes mass quantities of food recovered from hotels, restaurants, grocery stores and suppliers and turns that into tasty and nutritious meals to support other smaller organizations and you have a one-of-a-kind operation.”

Unlike food banks that warehouse canned, dried or processed ingredients for donation, Bracken’s Kitchen uses top-tier, fresh food to create hot, nutritious and tasty meals. “We are a large, professional kitchen, so we have a lot more resources to deal in fresh produce and perishable food,” Bracken says.

Recent menus have included roasted chicken stew with red quinoa and summer vegetables; picadillo made with grass-fed beef, venison, elk and rabbit from the Newport Meat Co.; shepherd’s pie with Angus beef; organic beef lasagna; roast turkey with chestnut stuffing; and banana-and-chocolate bread pudding.

“I’m cooking the same way I always have,” says Bracken, who earned national attention as executive chef at the Four Seasons Hotels and The Peninsula Beverly Hills. The Peninsula’s restaurant earned five-star ratings for 12 consecutive years on the strength of Bracken’s cooking, known for elevated comfort food. Now when top suppliers and restaurants donate gourmet ingredients, Bracken knows how to make the best use of them.

There have been large, luscious shrimp and piles of beef cheeks that bolster jambalaya or stews; filet mignon for beef stroganoff; gourmet bread that he chunks into croutons and bread pudding; and enormous wheels of artisan cheese that are mixed into mashed potatoes or handed out by the brick.

The donations are what chefs call over-prepared food, the often-necessary but excess ingredients required to meet peak demand and expectations. Through programs such as Chefs to End Hunger, restaurants and other food preparers use a standardized system to safely package and deliver the extras to places like Bracken’s Kitchen. That’s where the chef shows his genius in creating meals with broad appeal.

The self-described Kansas farm boy has tapped into virtually every aspect of his 35-year culinary career to attract support for the enterprise. Bruce Hecker, president of Bruce’s Gourmet Catering, retired Betsy from movie set catering and gave the truck to Bracken to launch his mobile dining effort. Andrew Gruel, founder of the Slapfish restaurants, ran a fundraiser for a second food truck. To reach the 49 percent of Orange County children who receive government-subsidized lunch during the school year, Bracken launched an Indiegogo campaign to help keep them fed through the summer. And then there was the “Pizza Showdown” he organized, a friendly competition pitting young chefs against “old” to see who could make the tastiest pie, all for the sake of charity.

At a shared commercial kitchen space in Huntington Beach, Bracken offered the owner access to his top-grade kitchen equipment in exchange for free rent. Nearly daily, friends, fellow chefs and members of his place of worship, Seabreeze Church in Huntington Beach, volunteer there to transform the industrial-size donations. As the crew dices bushels of onions, blends gallons of salad dressing or slices mounds of pork chops under Bracken’s guidance, the kitchen turns out three-course meals for an astonishing 30 cents each.

The virtuous circle continues to attract cash, service and product donations from sources such as the Allergan Foundation, Solutions for Urban Agriculture, Impact Giving, Waste Not OC Coalition and LA & SF Specialty.

The services of Bracken’s Kitchen aren’t just about charity. Food waste is estimated at 30 to 40 percent of the nationwide food supply, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If crops aren’t perfect or become too costly to harvest, they’re left to rot in fields. Restaurants once feared lawsuits if they donated food that was inaccurately perceived as old or spoiled. Laws have changed, and so have attitudes and awareness about the impact of food waste on the population and the planet.

Hunger-relief organizations have worked for decades to close the gap between excess waste, or “recovered food,” and hungry people, but there’s often been a missing link. That’s where Bracken, like a contestant on the reality show “Chopped,” illustrates how to take random ingredients and cook them into delicious, healthy meals.

“He has a skill set that goes far beyond most people in the world of philanthropy,” said Jordan Perkins, executive director of Solutions for Urban Agriculture, which runs a program to glean produce from area farms for Bracken’s Kitchen. “He clearly left a very lucrative career to do something that he’s very passionate about. We want to support that.”

Those skills also caught the attention of Mike Learakos, executive director of the Waste Not OC Coaltion and president of TJM Inc./Katella Grill. As Waste Not OC was developing a model to eliminate hunger and reduce food waste with wholesome, fresh recovered food, Bracken was thinking along the same lines.

“One critical element of our model is the use of ‘food recovery kitchens’ to repurpose and/or repackage recovered food in a manner that extends the product shelf life, eliminates waste at the food pantry level and ensures food safety,” Learakos wrote in an email. “After meeting Bill three years ago, we immediately hit it off, and it was then I identified Bill as a vital part of the model and Bracken’s Kitchen as our pilot food recovery kitchen.”

The model is extending even further into the community.  With a tasty meal as the draw, Bracken’s Kitchen boosts attendance at other charitable events. He’s partnered with the Beach Coin Laundry’s Laundry Love Project to feed participants while the laundromat’s volunteers wash up to 100 loads of clothing. In the works: Doctors from the Edinger Medical Group of Fountain Valley will ride along with Betsy to perform free medical checkups. “The doctors recognize what we do in terms of nutritious, healthy meals,” said Bracken. “They know all of the issues related to food insecurity.”

Now the chef has expansion plans. He envisions a fleet of trucks, a permanent kitchen, a statewide or national program, and additional staff who can help Bracken move from behind the wheel (or the stove) to share his management and cooking skills.

“I spend a lot of my time guiding and teaching my volunteers. Teaching a young person culinary skills helps break the cycle of poverty,” Bracken said. “We can feed them all day long, but guess what? Tomorrow they wake up hungry. If we can have impact on the long-term cycle of poverty, then we can really make a difference.” Bracken knows that his meals aren’t just about food. “It’s the idea that someone cares, that there is hope,” he said.

At the end of the meal in Santa Ana, Bracken packs Betsy for the drive back to Huntington Beach, where he’ll end a typical 12-hour day. Turning to explain why he works so hard, he repeats a favorite saying, “Feeding people isn’t the same as nourishing them.”

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