Dining Out

Gardens of Avila chef makes the most of local spring vegetables

Special to The TribuneApril 17, 2014 

  • The Gardens of Avila at Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort

    1215 Avila Beach Drive, San Luis Obispo | 595-7302 | www.sycamoresprings.com

    Hours: Breakfast, lunch and Sunday brunch, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily; dinner 5 to 9 p.m. daily; happy hour 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.

    The scene: A gardenlike setting, whether seated in the bar or the main dining room.

    The cuisine: Farm-fresh seasonal cuisine that takes full advantage of the property’s extensive kitchen garden.

When it comes to farm-to-table cuisine, Gregg Wangard delivers the goods. A frequent presence at local farmers’ markets, he proudly labels those local food producers on his seasonal menus. Recently, Wangard was named executive chef at The Gardens of Avila at Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort and corporate chef for the resort’s parent company, Boutique Hotel Collection.

The Wisconsin native grew up with a keen appreciation of farm-fresh fare, and — after his first restaurant stint as a dishwasher — his passion for food has resulted in an impressive résumé that includes a AAA five-star property, an acclaimed international resort in the Caribbean, Loews Hotel in Santa Monica and Marisol at The Cliffs Resort in Shell Beach (another BHC property). He also talks food on his Facebook page and at chefgreggwangard.blogspot.com.

Q: What is your favorite local/seasonal ingredient that you’re currently using in your menus?

A: My favorite local ingredient right now is spring onions. We have a ton of them in the chefs’ garden at Sycamore Mineral Springs. Other favorite ingredients are Melogold grapefruit, blood orange, Meyer lemon and chanterelles. We are coming into white sea bass season soon as well.

Q: How are you currently using the onions?

A: I make a spring onion soup with them using the white parts of the onion, and stock with the greens. We also fry some of the tender green parts for garnish.

Q: How does this particular dish represent your culinary style/background/philosophy?

A: Whether it’s growing, sourcing or market diving, the whole point is to promote the farmers that you know in your area. It is becoming more and more difficult for the small farmer to make a living; they need all the support they can get. Also, when you have a good relationship with your farmers, ranchers or fishermen, it makes a great story for the guest who wants to hear it. Know where your food comes from!

Q: How would home cooks approach this ingredient in their own kitchens?

A: Home cooks could treat spring onions like any other onion; they just aren’t as strong.

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

A: My favorite dishes to cook at home are eggs. I make breakfast every day for (my wife) Kelly and my kids. We all love eggs, except my little boy. A fried, over-easy egg, San Luis Sourdough, grated Wisconsin SarVecchio (Parmesan), a little cracked pepper, some time and a “Do Not Disturb” sign. Oh, and a great cup of coffee.

When it’s not breakfast, I like smoking meats, salmon, throwing on a rotisserie chicken, or just a good fresh tomato sauce with pasta, Parmesan and basil. We eat very simple but very seasonal at home. Our kids like to make a mess — I mean, a recipe.

Q: What is your favorite food and wine pairing?

A: My favorite food and wine pairing — there are so many. I would have to say it’s got to be cheese fondue with a dry Riesling and a little kirsch. For the cheese, the blend of Sid Cook’s Fontina and Roth Case Grand Cru Gruyere Surchoix (both Wisconsin cheeses) — it’s nutty, creamy, stinky, smooth, and super sexy all in one!

Other favorite pairings would be Hooks 15-year-old cheddar and aged Madeira (a fortified Portuguese wine), foie gras and sauternes (a sweet French wine), Rogue River blue and ice wine, caviar and champagne, Brillat-Savarin (triple-crème, brie-style cheese) with a ripe apple or pear and a huge Chardonnay, great Indian food and cold beer, sushi and sake — now I’m hungry!

Wine, Waves & Beyond

All of the BHC properties will be participating in the fifth annual Wine, Waves & Beyond from April 30 to May 4, a benefit for the Association of Amputee Surfers (AmpSurf). Among the various events is a “Hops to Hogs Throwdown” featuring “Snout-to-Tail” pork dishes from local chefs paired with craft beers from local breweries. For more information, go to www.winewavesandbeyond.com.

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

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