Big Sky chef fills his plates with local flavor

Greg Holt’s philosophy calls for fresh ingredients prepared simply

Special to The TribuneFebruary 7, 2013 

  • Big Sky Café

    1121 Broad St., San Luis Obispo | 545-5401 | bigskycafe.com (rutizfarms.com, allesinasalami.com)

    Hours: Open daily, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.

    The scene: A vibrant, casual downtown cafe.

    The cuisine: Market-fresh fare ranges from regional comfort foods to ethnic dishes, including extensive vegetarian options throughout; bottled beer and local wine available.

    Expect to spend: $5 to $11 for breakfast; $5 to $15 for lunch; $10 to $20 for dinner entrées.

Since opening in 1994, Charles Myers’ Big Sky Café has embraced local, market-fresh ingredients, showcasing them in dishes that represent a variety of regional cuisines.

Charged with bringing those concepts to the plate is chef Greg Holt.

The unassuming Holt was born and raised in Lompoc, and attended the culinary arts program at Santa Barbara City College, where highlights included a lecture by Julia Child and “feeding Ronald Reagan twice.”

After that he worked at local corporate restaurants before being hired by Myers in 1994. He worked at Big Sky for eight years, then at a couple of other establishments before returning about five years ago.

Q: What is your favorite local/seasonal ingredient that you’re currently using in the Big Sky Café menu?

A: We are currently using Rutiz Farms green beans and Alle-Pia (formerly known as Allesina) Barolo salami in our winter menu. Jerry Rutiz grows such amazing produce, fully sustainable and full of flavor. I still remember the first time I visited his farm and put my hand wrist-deep into the soil — just an amazing experience.

We simply pickle his beans with a little dill, a little garlic, some peppercorns and cider vinegar. It’s a snap, just as yummy as can be, and a great way to enjoy local produce out of season.

The Alle-Pia salami pairs with these pickled beans just fabulously. Antonio (Varia) of Buona Tavola has been one of my favorite San Luis Obispo chefs since I’ve lived here. When I was introduced to his salami, I was blown away. It is better than any I have eaten anywhere in my European vacations.

Q: How are you using these in the winter menu?

A: We are using both of them in our Local Salami & Ceci Chopped Salad and on the Local Antipasti Plate.

For the salad, we are tossing the beans and salami with romaine, pulled organic chicken, chiffonade of basil and a little red wine vinaigrette. Then, we top the salad with crispy pimenton chickpeas and our house marinated Kalamata olives. On the antipasti plate we are simply arranging the salami with local cheese (right now we’re using Rinconada Dairy’s La Panza Gold), saffron marinated mushrooms, more of our crispy chickpeas, more of our house marinated olives and some crispy French bread from Brian’s Bakery in Atascadero.

Q: How do these particular dishes represent your culinary philosophy?

A: I have always felt that the best flavor in food comes from the freshest ingredients. These two suppliers knock it out of the park with flavor and quality.

What really grabs my attention is that local food, prepared simply, just tastes better. Happily, that type of food is healthier for you as well.

It’s also nice that the farmer can live here, that the salami maker can thrive here — we should support our locals. Keep our dollars here. Eat and drink what’s grown here.

Q: How would home cooks approach pickling green beans in their own kitchens?

A: While pickling the green beans can seem daunting, if you are only doing it for flavor, not to preserve it for future use, pickling really is quite easy.

Blanch your beans in boiling lemon sugar water (I use Sprite). Cool the beans down quickly with ice water, toss them with a few cloves of whole garlic, a couple of whole peppercorns, a couple of sprigs of dill and cover them with equal parts cider vinegar and boiled water with a touch of salt in it.

Q: What is your favorite food-and-wine pairing and why?

A: I love Paella — crunchy, crispy rice with chicken, pork, seafood and fresh veggies — and that pairs nicely (everything does, really) with Santa Rita pinot noirs. The boys and girls back in Lompoc really, really know how to farm that grape!

Q: What is your favorite dish to cook at home?

A: Currently, my family and I are on a salmon in tinfoil kick. I look for wild salmon, even if has been frozen. I layer it with paper-thin slices of lemon, fennel and onion, then a dot of butter, a couple of sprigs of dill, salt and pepper, and then it’s onto the barbecue.

My wife, Mirjam, loves this with pencil-thin asparagus and Hollandaise; I enjoy grilled baby broccoli, simply with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Katy Budge is a freelance writer from Atascadero. Contact her at ktbudge@sbcglobal.net.

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