A graduate of the California Culinary Academy, chef Kirk Sowell is a veteran of several local kitchens, working every station from line cook to executive chef.
In February 2009, he and his wife, Barrie (also no stranger to the restaurant business), opened Frankie & Lolas Front Street Café in Morro Bay.
Though the menu sports such whimsical items as a Fried Green Tomatoes Benedict, a Leroy Browns scramble, and a fish sandwich described as super crazy fresh, this is a place thats serious about its food, right down to house-made pasta, hand-cut fries, and from-scratch dressings and condiments.
Q: What is your favorite local/seasonal ingredient that youre currently using in your menu, and why is it your favorite?
A: Right now, dinosaur kale (a hearty, very-dark-green kale also known as Tuscan kale). Its such a pedestrian ingredient, but when you do something like grill it, it changes the structure and flavor so dramatically.
Q: How are you currently using the kale?
A: Im running a special of braised greens with bacon drizzled with Lone Oak Olive Oil from SLO Grown Produce and balsamic vinegar, and served with house-made harissa (a North African chile paste) and aioli.
We bundle a large leaf each of kale, endive, and chard, then wrap the stems together with bacon not thick-cut because it wont cook at the same rate as the greens. Then, were just dressing it with some olive oil, salt and pepper, and putting it on the flattop grill until its just slightly caramelized and the bacon is a bit crispy. Before serving, we drizzle more of the olive oil and some balsamic over it.
I really like the combo of earthiness, spiciness, and herbaceousness theres really a lot going on with only a few simple ingredients, but its not overpowering. It sets up your palate for the next dish.
Q: How does this particular dish represent your culinary style/background/philosophy?
A: My culinary style has changed a lot since chef school, when I made elaborate, and often overdone, dishes. Ive been encouraged by my lovely wife (Barrie) to do simple, classic dishes and make them my own with just a few ingredients, and Im really enjoying that its very cathartic.
Q: How would home cooks approach dinosaur kale in their own kitchens?
A: Exactly the same way. Its exactly what they should be cooking at home its easy, simple and nutritious. Lets face it, not many of us are going to sit down and eat a big bowl of all those greens in their raw state.
Q: What is your favorite dish to cook at home and why?
A: Tamales, because my kids help make them. The tamales arent something you can do quickly, but also theyre not very complicated. It lets me spend time with my kids time when you find youre asking them questions you wouldnt normally ask them, and theyre also giving me answers that maybe I didnt hear before.
Q: What is your favorite food and wine pairing and why?
A: Anything with Châteauneuf-du-Pape, because thats really fun to say! Seriously though, I love GSM (grenache/syrah/mourvèdre) blends anyway, especially local ones, because they go with so many things so well whether its heavy duty fish, grilled meats, salads and they match well with a lot of the flavors I use in my food.
Katy Budge is a freelance writer from Atascadero. Contact her at email@example.com.