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 & Lola’s 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 that’s 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 you’re currently using in your menu, and why is it your favorite?
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A: Right now, dinosaur kale (a hearty, very-dark-green kale also known as Tuscan kale). It’s 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: I’m 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 won’t cook at the same rate as the greens. Then, we’re just dressing it with some olive oil, salt and pepper, and putting it on the flattop grill until it’s 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 — there’s really a lot going on with only a few simple ingredients, but it’s 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. I’ve been encouraged by my lovely wife (Barrie) to do simple, classic dishes and make them my own with just a few ingredients, and I’m really enjoying that — it’s very cathartic.
Q: How would home cooks approach dinosaur kale in their own kitchens?
A: Exactly the same way. It’s exactly what they should be cooking at home — it’s easy, simple and nutritious. Let’s 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 aren’t something you can do quickly, but also they’re not very complicated. It lets me spend time with my kids — time when you find you’re asking them questions you wouldn’t normally ask them, and they’re also giving me answers that maybe I didn’t hear before.
Q: What is your favorite food and wine pairing and why?
A: Anything with Châteauneuf-du-Pape, because that’s 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 it’s heavy duty fish, grilled meats, salads — and they match well with a lot of the flavors I use in my food.