Gardens of Avila chef is cozying up to butternut

Chef Robert Trester shares some tips for cooking with this comforting winter squash

Special to The TribuneDecember 14, 2012 

  • Gardens of Avila at Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort

    1215 Avila Beach Drive, San Luis Obispo | 595-7365

    Hours: Open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily; breakfast, lunch and Sunday brunch 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.; bar menu 3 to 6 p.m.; weekday happy hour 3 to 6 p.m.; dinner 5 to 9 p.m.

    The scene: Several relaxing venues offer seating in the bar lounge, the outdoor terrace patio or the cozy dining room.

    The cuisine: Farm-to-table cuisine, with many ingredients sourced from the resort’s own garden.

    Expect to spend: Breakfast and lunch under $15, dinner entrées $25-30, five-course garden party dinner $55.

A native of Wisconsin and an eight-year resident of California — recently via prestigious positions in the Los Angeles restaurant scene — Chef Robert Trester came to the Gardens of Avila at Sycamore Mineral Springs in June 2012. He was lured in part by the property’s on-site garden, a feature that helps him in presenting true farm-to-table cuisine on his menus.

What’s your favorite local/seasonal ingredient that you’re currently using?

We are currently harvesting some great butternut squash from our garden here at Sycamore Mineral Springs.

We are fortunate enough to have the space to operate a one-acre plot of land where we grow produce for the restaurant, from herbs and edible flowers to tomatoes, pole beans, watermelon, zucchini, peppers, radish, squash, and much more. We rotate the crops based on the season, and have a farmer who comes and consults on the growing and planting.

It is unique for us to have access to such great products all the time. While it is easier and cheaper to call a produce company and have them deliver produce to us, I enjoy the challenge and reward of growing our own, and sourcing from local farmers and farmers markets when I need to supplement.

I’ve always liked fall. Growing up in Wisconsin meant a change in the leaves, a temperature drop to crisp clean air, and the rise in root vegetables and squashes in the kitchen.

It reminds me of home when I walk in the garden and pick the squash every day. It is a feeling that I transfer to the food when we cook in the fall — warm flavors and colors, and a sense of fulfillment when you eat.

How are you currently using the butternut squash?

We are using the squash in a few different ways, each designed to celebrate the ingredient itself.

In one, we sous vide it, shock it in an ice bath, and then glaze it in a brown butter glaze for our seared sea scallops with brown butter glazed squash, pork belly, shishito peppers and See Canyon apple glaze.

We also shave and pan roast it for our flatbread in the bar, which is also topped with pork belly, burrata, arugula, garden peppers, and sherry glaze.

I’ve also made a butternut squash consommé that I warm up and pour over herbs from the garden as a squash tea with garden herbs for an amuse bouche, and we serve a butternut squash gnocchi with roasted chicken.

How do these dishes represent your culinary philosophy?

My whole philosophy on food is to take great local ingredients and prepare them in a way that celebrates it, without covering up or muddling flavors — to keep clean, intense flavor combinations that aren’t overwhelming each other. The techniques don’t mask the flavor of the food, but rather enhance it, bring it forward and celebrate its versatility.

How would home cooks approach butternut squash in their own kitchens?

At home I use them in pastas or as sauces or whatever strikes me at the time.

Home cooks could use it in a variety of ways. Just peel it, roast it, boil it, whatever you are comfortable with.

Shave them into a salad, eat it out of hand raw, bake them into a pie or tart, bread ... the possibilities are only limited by your imagination and desire to be creative with it.

Katy Budge is a freelance writer from Atascadero. Contact her at

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