Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Peter B's Grows Up and Celebrates a Big Birthday

September 13, 2016 – This piece went live on the Edible Monterey Bay blog. Read it there.

Peter B's Grows Up and Celebrates a Big Birthday
Story and Photos by Camilla M. Mann

Twenty years ago this month, Carmel Brewing Co. and the Monterey Doubletree Hotel—now Portola Hotel & Spa—joined forces and opened a 150-seat brewpub and restaurant to serve as a tasting room for the brewing company. Over the course of two decades, Peter B’s has expanded, earned accolades, collaborated with local food purveyors, earned even more accolades, and cemented itself as a pillar in the local craft beer scene.

For instance, every Wednesday, the brewpub hosts KRML’s live broadcast of Pub Talk featuring the Beer Geek, Chris Nelson, and the Girl Beer Geek, Merideth Canham-Nelson. Chris says of their broadcast, “This is a great opportunity to highlight Peter B’s and the greater beer community on the Monterey Peninsula. In my beer travels, I have seen how the pub, or public house, can be the soul and social center of a community. In a small way, I hope to recreate that feeling with this show.”

Next week, Peter B’s Brewpub turns twenty. And the team is celebrating by shaking things up with new brews and new dishes.

Some things won’t change, however. Home to eighteen high-definition televisions, Peter B’s will remain a favorite haunt for sports fans and beer enthusiasts alike. And the patio will continue to provide pet-lovers a comfortable place to lounge around cozy fire pits.

I recently sat down with head brewer Justin Rivard, executive chef Danny Abbruzzese, food and beverage director Brian Hein, and restaurant manager Sean Wall to hear what the next decade has in store.

While each one has vast experience in their fields, they are new as a team. They joined Peter B’s recently—with Chef Danny coming in three months ago and Justin moving to the area just two months ago. But they are already running smoothly and forging ahead to up Peter B’s game.

As Wall said, “The three most important things to me as the manager are the beer, the food, and the service. The beer? That’s Justin. The food? That’s Danny. And the service? That’s me.” He talked about the process of evolution and having to balance volume, quality, and diversity. “We want to make sure the local clientele can have all of their favorites, while making seasonal changes. And we have to appeal to tourists. It’s a push and a pull.”

Justin chimed in about making small tweaks, using Belly Up Blonde as an example, “I knew I had to keep the flagship beers, but I stripped down the recipe for the blonde, incorporated new hops, and spiced it up.” While it is a perceptible difference, it’s just as accessible and easy drinking. With a background in cognitive neuroscience, Justin credits his consistency to his scientific training. “Anyone can craft a good brew once. The trick is brewing it the same way over and over.”

After being part of a larger brewery in Michigan, Justin is excited to get back to the craft of small-batch brewing where he can incorporate local ingredients, support the community, and push the envelope. He talked about a smoked beer that he has planned. Smoked beer is a traditional German style, named for the process of drying the brewer’s malt over open flames in a kiln; the grains absorb the smokiness and impart that flavor to the beers brewed with them. Justin’s smoked beer will include local poison oak honey from the Honey Ladies in Los Gatos. The day we met, he was working on a sour beer and had just added a tropical IPA to the menu that was made with a glut of imperfect passionfruit.

“We like ugly fruit,” Chef Danny chuckled. With more than 160 pounds of imperfect peaches in the kitchen, he said, “I think imperfections equal beauty.” Danny spoke with pride about how local farmers will do a second harvest just for him. Because ugly fruit may have blemishes or not be perfectly round, they can’t be sold in most grocery stores. But they taste just as good and using those aesthetically challenged pieces increases a farm’s productivity and sustainability.

Aligned with Portola Hotel & Spa’s commitment to sustainability—they are Monterey’s first (and only) U.S. Green Building Council LEED-certified hotel, after all—Peter B’s embraces the tenets of reducing, reusing, and recycling. They donate leftover spent mash to local farmers to use as feed for livestock. Some of the mash is also made into a signature dog biscuit available for the four-legged guests. The brewpub’s barrel room seats sixteen for private beer tastings and features a reclaimed wood table made from Randazzo Salvage wood.

Just as Justin is revamping the beer recipes, Chef Danny is putting his own spin on the food menu. He has added ceviche to the starters. His sweet potato tater tots are served with a curry aioli. And his Coke Farm Heirloom Tomato Salad elevates the traditional caprese with the addition of caper berries and pickled onions.

Danny talked about creating great food and I pressed him to define great food. He paused, then said, “Great food is about chasing memories. It invokes memories and creates new ones.”

His menu pays homage to some of his food memories and experiences. His Bamma Po’ Boy was created in honor of a po’ boy joint he once helmed in Alabama. Large shrimp are seasoned with traditional Bayou spices, breaded, fried, and served on a soft roll. Turning to Justin, I asked what he’d pair with the sandwich. He said the biscuity-quality of the Belly Up Blonde would complement the pillowy Bamma.

The new Peter B’s team is raising the sophistication of their offerings. We can look forward to collaborations on brewer’s dinners which will feature a themed menu of four courses paired with small-batch brews. They plan on incorporating more educational opportunities to engage the community. Justin is considering leading foraging treks to source wild ingredients for his beer. Those are more long-term projects.

But on the immediate horizon, on September 20 they are having a party. To celebrate Peter B’s 20th anniversary, guests will enjoy 20% off food all day long; bottles of Dancing Goat Russian Imperial Espresso Stout will be specially priced at $3; and 20 raffle prizes will be awarded throughout the day.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Bartender Josh Perry Shakes Up the 1833 Cocktail Menu (Edible Monterey Bay)

May 24, 2016 – This piece went live on the Edible Monterey Bay blog. Read it there.

Bartender Josh Perry Shakes Up the 1833 Cocktail Menu
Story and Photos by Camilla M. Mann

May 24, 2016 – Late last week, lead bartender Josh Perry set up a bar beneath the redwood tree and invited media folks to preview of his brand new cocktail menu. Though Perry has been part of the Restaurant 1833 staff since March of 2015, this is the first cocktail menu that showcases all of his own creations.

“I started developing this menu in January,” Perry said. “I was looking for maximum flavor with minimal ingredients.” As we eagerly eyed the menu, devouring the cocktail titles and descriptions, he continued, “You should see the six hundred and twenty five recipes that didn’t make the cut!”

Standing over a tray of his Coconut Milk Punch, Perry told us the story of how he started mixing drinks two decades ago – when he was six years old. It was Easter Sunday and his grandfather decided it was time for him to learn how to make an Old Fashioned. When he got to describing the pour, Perry held up three fingers, “’Normally you would pour two fingers’ worth. But my grandfather said ‘your fingers are small, so make it three.’”

The Coconut Milk Punch takes four days to make and involves seven different strainings; Perry describes it as a clarified piña colada. It features copper pot-distilled Trinidad rum and a liqueur that oozes the essence of the Caribbean with flavors of vanilla, ginger, and clove. While I can appreciate the craftsmanship involved, it was not my favorite of the five we tried that evening.

Perry’s Hummingbird was inspired by the lavender bushes just outside the kitchen window. The cocktail includes a homemade lavender tincture, something akin to lavender bitters, made from those fragrant bushes and is decorated with a lavender sprig.

While Perry mixed and poured, Chef Jason Franey brought out some bites for us to share, including the Guajillo Chile-Crusted Baby Back Pork Ribs, Seasonal Mushroom Flatbread, and Homemade Falafel. As Perry talked about how the bar menu must complement the restaurant menu, we finally made it to his favorite cocktail: the Banana Boulevardier.

Boulevardier is the mysterious cousin to the Negroni. While the Negroni is simultaneously sharp and smooth, substituting whiskey for gin lends the Boulevardier a robust richness. “I love the Boulevardier because it takes such classic flavors of the original cocktail and throws in a twist that is both bold and nuanced within the drink,” explained Perry. When I asked what he would pair with his favorite cocktail, he paused for a moment and said, “The Banana Boulevardier goes very well with the Fire Roasted Sunchokes or our market fish selections.”

My favorite cocktail of the night was his Smokey & the Bandit. A concoction with both bourbon and mezcal, it was sort of like a sultry, supple kiss—tongue-tingling with a lingering sweetness and just a caress of heat from the homemade poblano-tabasco syrup. Perry let me try the syrup aside from the cocktail and I was instantly smitten. My mind began spinning with a dozen of other applications. But in the cocktail, it provided the perfect balance of sweetness to the citrus, smoky, and spicy flavors.

The menu is officially launched. Up next for Perry, he has submitted a cocktail for Bombay Sapphire’s Most Imaginative Bartender competition. “I am currently waiting to hear back on the results of my submission. If selected, I will be traveling to London to compete in the finals,” he said. While he didn’t share the name of his drink, he did share that the cocktail contains Bombay Sapphire, mango curry, sherry, Rangpur limes, Thai basil, and egg whites. Whether the cocktail is honored, or not, I hope it makes it to the menu at 1833. It sounds fabulous.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Dolatas Look to Expand Their Food Community at 7D

May 3, 2016 – This piece went live on the Edible Monterey Bay blog. Read it there.

Dolatas Look to Expand Their Food Community at 7D
Story and Photos by Camilla M. Mann

Jay and Chloe Dolata, who own the community-centric Carmel Belle restaurant, are looking to expand our local food options and need your help. They are going to the Carmel City Council tonight about 7pm seeking permission to install a food marketplace in the underused 7th and Dolores building, which will offer everything from espressos and homemade granola to charcuterie, wine and caviar.

“Food is the centerpiece for gathering people together,” says Chloe Dolata, who affectionately calls the new project 7D. “Jay and I want the marketplace to be the center of our community because we love neighbors and eating and celebrating.”

Their established restaurant, nearby Carmel Belle, attests to that mission. Over the years they have amassed a crowd of passionate fans who enjoy the Dolatas’ focus on local, sustainable foods.
Jay and Chloe invited friends and community members interested in their new venture to visit the proposed marketplace one evening last week. The space is airy and modern with lots of natural light and warm wooden floors. There is also a full commercial kitchen already in place.

On the floor, in blue tape, were the outlines of fixtures, labelled with what they intend to place there. “Chocolate Bar” read one sign; “Espresso Machine” read another. There were also outlines of tables and chairs, designating where they plan to have seating for customers to eat inside as well as outside on the Dolores side of the building. Nestled between the two buildings is a cozy fire pit surrounded with wooden chairs.

Around the main room were informational boards that shared what the Dolatas have planned in various areas. For their Pantry & Grocery section, they plan to emphasize organic, locally produced goods, including fresh pasta, jams, honey, and nut butters. They will offer housemade almond milk, granola, and bone broths. “Pho in a jar?” one of the signs asked. “Why not!”

For Home Goods, they will carry ceramics, Pendleton beach blankets, custom-made flip flops from Big Sur, and pour-over coffee filters. Beer aficionados can pick up branded 7D growlers while wine connoisseurs will be able to select both red and white wines from a variety of Santa Lucia and Monterey County vineyards. At one table, representative of two local vintners’ they plan to sell, they were pouring Heller Estates’ 2013 Cachagua Cabernet Sauvignon and Big Sur Vineyards’ 2014 Chardonnay.

Their Cheese & Charcuterie Bar will include an array of caviar and an olive bar. The Coffee, Pastry, & Prepared Foods options will provide pour-over coffee, overnight oats, and everything customers would need to pack a picnic. “Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner everyday,” read a sign.

After guests had mingled, chatted, and sampled the eats—large platters of charcuterie, cheeses, fresh fruits, and fresh-baked pizzas—Jay, Chloe, and their daughter, Brogan, ascended the stairs and addressed the crowd below. Jay presented a concept of “Community in Food,” echoing what Chloe had said about food being the center of gravity for social gatherings. Jay offered ways in which they hope 7D will be the location of such gatherings. They plan to host a variety of special events including pop-up meals and cooking demonstrations. And they will offer local authors a venue for book talks or cookbook signings. Jay asserted, “We want this to be a gathering place for all.”

Tonight at 7pm Jay and Chloe bring their proposal before the Carmel City Council. They invited friends and community members to attend the meeting in support of the project. But before that, Jay called for people to come talk to him. “Ask me the hard questions!” he challenged. I didn’t ask him any questions that were too tough, but I did probe about the two people ahead of me who are well-known business owners in the vicinity. “I assured them that this venture is about community and collaboration,” Jay explained. “Our marketplace isn’t meant to compete with what they are already doing.”

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Adventures in Recipe Testing: Making Chef Jason Franey's Guajillo Chile-Crusted Baby Back Ribs {Edible Monterey Bay}

December 15, 2015 – this piece went live on the Edible Monterey Bay blog. Read it there.

Adventures in Recipe Testing: 
Making Chef Jason Franey's Guajillo Chile-Crusted Baby Back Ribs 
Story and Photos by Camilla M. Mann

Testing recipes is simultaneously exciting and nerve-wracking. It’s exciting because you are cooking someone else’s recipe that will be published somewhere. And it’s nerve-wracking for exactly that reason—you are cooking someone else’s recipe that will be published somewhere.

When I am tasked with testing a recipe, which I do from time to time for different publishers, I constantly repeat the following mantra in my head: follow the recipe, follow the recipe, follow the recipe.

I am notorious for making tweaks and substitutions when I cook. I’m all about using what I have; I don’t hesitate for a second to swap out one kind of mushroom for another or use a different herb than specified. But—in these instances—the results depend on me following the recipe exactly.

In this case, I was testing Chef Jason Franey’s recipe for Guajillo Chile-Crusted Baby Back Pork Ribs that would appear in the Winter 2015 issue of Edible Monterey Bay. I have to be honest: when I read the ingredient list, my eyes might have glazed over and I might have asked myself, “What did you just sign on to cook?”

 There are multiple steps and several items that are not common pantry items. His recipe is definitely not for the faint of heart or anyone who is easily deterred. There were times in the process that I actually declared aloud, “I think I would rather just go to 1833 and have him cook it for me!”

“What? Are we going to 1833?” asked my husband, excitedly.

“No, not tonight, but it would be easier,” I answered.

The adventure began when we needed to downsize the recipe. Chef Franey’s recipe serves 60. We modified the amounts to serve 12. And his recipe, as I know all real chefs do, is written in weight measurements. I know, I know—switching from volume to weight is an essential and fundamental step in becoming a better cook. But I’m not there yet. I have made the switch for baking sweets, but not for savories. So, for the home cook, we decided to provide both the volume and the weight measurements.

The recipe didn’t specify ‘boneless’ ribs; so the first time I went to the market, I picked up a rack of baby back ribs. Then I looked at the photo and suspected that maybe I should have purchased boneless. I went back to the store.

Then it began to get really interesting. Chef Franey called for “Yuzu Kosho” and “Feuilles de Brick.” I know what yuzu is and actually had just gotten about a dozen of them. I researched yuzu kosho and made a batch on my own.

 Yuzu kosho is a condiment that adds a bold citrusy kick to dishes. It’s a fresh paste made with the zest and juice of multiple citrus fruits. Mine included lemon, grapefruit, lime, and yuzu. It also has the added je ne sais quoi of a little heat, a little salt, and a little sweet. Click here for that recipe (
When I began to search for the Feuilles de Brick, I was less successful. I called supermarkets all over town, followed by all the speciality markets. No luck. Only one person was even familiar with it. She had one-up on me. I was scrambling to describe these sheets—they are sort of like a phyllo dough and sort of like a crêpe. I looked at making my own, but was running out of time.

Chef Franey offered to give me some, so I sent my husband to the restaurant. “What am I picking up?” he asked. “Feuilles de Brick.Just tell him you’re picking it up for Edible Monterey Bay,” I answered.

Because sourcing Feuilles de Brick was so tough, I talked to the publisher about providing readers with some local substitutes. We agreed on phyllo dough as that’s readily available in almost every market.

Once I had all the ingredients, I ended up making three versions because I wasn’t sure if the ribs were baby back or boneless. I made Baby Back Ribs in Feuilles de Brick, Boneless Ribs in Feuilles de Brick, and Boneless Ribs in Phyllo dough.

What an incredible dish. Truly. The finished ribs—which are first braised then crusted with a rub made of coriander, fried garlic, shallots, and guajillo peppers—were an amalgam of textures and a wild combination of flavors. Tender meat, crispy wrapper, tangy, zesty, and salty. The sauce. Let’s talk about that, too. Teeming with Asian flavors, it includes the yuzu kosho, soy sauce, mirin, and more fish sauce than I have seen used in a single dish ever. The garlic, shallots, and cilantro add even more depth and layers of flavor. It was a delicious, finger-licking surprise. Wow!

But it was a complicated recipe. My husband and two boys were torn on which version they liked the best. I still think I would prefer to go to 1833 and just order it. And now, my appreciation of the dish will be heightened by the knowledge of how much work goes into the dish.

Note: Feuilles de Brick can be ordered on amazon:

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Eating at Il Tegamino Feels Like You're Dining in the Panzuto Family Kitchen {Edible Monterey Bay}

October 12, 2015 – this piece went live on the Edible Monterey Bay blog. Read it there.

Eating at Il Tegamino Feels Like You're Dining in the Panzuto Family Kitchen 
Story and Photos by Camilla M. Mann

October  12, 2015 – Several months ago, I spoke to Giuseppe Panzuto about his passion project: opening Il Tegamino with his older brother Salvatore. They had owned and operated a wine bar in their hometown of Naples, Italy when they were just sixteen and twenty years old. Now, more than two decades later, in their new hometown of Carmel, their restaurant features Neopolitan comfort food using recipes inspired by their childhood.

“I’m very excited to have something that is all our own,” said Giuseppe, the former GM and partner in Cantinetta Luca. Salvatore has cooked locally at Cantinetta Luca, as well as at Sierra Mar at the Post Ranch Inn and La Balena in Carmel.

The Panzuto brothers hosted a preview dinner ahead of their soft opening last Thursday. Tucked into the Courtyard of the Golden Bough, it was like being invited into their home for dinner. Their mother, Rita, collected cooking pots, including the classical Italian pot il tegame which is a short, flat-bottomed pot with two handles. Il tegamino is a smaller version of the pot and several of their dishes are served in the restaurant’s namesake vessel.

The tasting menu Salvatore shared included a little bit of everything, from their antipasti and insalate offerings to primi, secondi, and contorni plates and from the polpette bar to the desserts. There was so much food to try, I was grateful that Giuseppe warned us ahead of time to pace ourselves.

Served with thin slices of bread, we started off with Zucchine alla Scapece, a traditional summertime dish from Naples that makes use of a bounty of summer squash. Zucchini is fried, then marinated overnight. Il Tegamino’s version had some zing from the combination of balsamic vinegar, oil, mint, and chili flakes.

The antipasti, included a riff on eggplant parmesan made with zucchini instead. Salvatore presented a trio of frittura all’Italiana, serving arancini, which are risotto balls stuffed with cheese, meat, and peas; crocchette di patate, potato croquettes with mozzarella; and a fried dough that had been blended with sea lettuce. While our table was debating on a favorite, Giuseppe shared that he had collected the sea lettuce that morning. An avid free-diver, he plans to include daily specials that he has spearfished.

Their salad, a plating of romaine leaves, shaved, parmesan, and croutons, was elevated from simple to sublime with the tonnata dressing, a creamy, tangy sauce made with anchovies, capers, and tuna.

The primi and secondi plates were hearty, solid dishes, but we were all awaiting their much buzzed about polpette bar. Have you ever heard of a restaurant with a meatball bar? I hadn’t, but I anticipate an avid cult following for that reason alone. Everyone loves a good meatball!

Salvatore has six meatballs on the menu that should satisfy everyone from the omnivore to the vegetarian. He serves polpette de manzo, beef meatballs with pine nuts, raisins, garlic, bread, parsley, and parmesan cheese; polpette di maiale, pork meatballs with onions, bread, thyme, sage, and pecorino cheese; polpette di tonno, fresh tuna balls with capers, mint, potato, and caciocavallo cheese; polpette di granchio, crab meat balls with chives, bread, celery, and bell peppers; polpette di cavolo, a meatless ball formed from cauliflower, black olives, bread, and parmesan cheese; and polpette di funghi, made with Portobello and Porcini mushrooms, ricotta cheese, thyme, bread, and parmesan cheese. Three housemade sauces accompanied the meatballs and complemented all of the flavors. With the choice of meat, seafood, and vegetarian meatballs, there is definitely something for every palate.

Verging on the precipice between satiated and stuffed, two desserts were brought out and we simply couldn’t resist. They had prepared two tiramisù, one traditional and one that was new to me. When you see tiramisù on the menu, it’s usually tiramisù al caffè, made with espresso. Tiramisù al Limone, made with limoncello-soaked ladyfingers, was a delightful surprise.

The thing about having a great meal at a friend’s house: you have to politely wait for a repeat invitation. At Il Tegamino, you feel as if you’re eating in a friend’s kitchen, but you don’t have to wait to return. Just be sure to make a reservation because they only have 24 seats inside.

By next week, when the soft opening phase is finished, Il Tegamino will open up 28 more dining spots in the lovely outdoor patio at the Court of the Golden Bough. For the time being they are only open for dinner, but the brothers plan to add lunch service by the beginning of next year.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Local Libations: Field to Glass {Edible Monterey Bay}

This piece appeared, in print, in the Fall 2015 issue of Edible Monterey Bay. Click to read it: there.

Local Libations: Field to Glass
Bar Cart Cocktail Co.’s Katie Blandin Shea distills the seasons with foraged ingredients
Story by Camilla M. Mann

The setting was a Carmel flower shop closed for the night. Ten young women circled a rustic table, leaning in to learn Katie Blandin Shea’s secrets for using foraged plants like juniper and chamomile to create cocktails that each tells a story. Really, really good stories.

Her premise: a good drink begins with fresh flavors. To that end, she sources seasonal ingredients from farmers’ markets, estate gardens, and wild fields and forests.

Blandin Shea officially launched her Bar Cart Cocktail Co. last spring, offering workshops such as the one in the flower shop, Burst + Bloom, as well as her main business—designing and serving custom cocktails at public or private events. But everything in her career seems to have led up to this moment, and it’s no wonder that her personal passion for cocktail experimentation has long since won an ardent following among her friends.

Blandin Shea studied agribusiness at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo and has worked on organic farms and in the food and beverage industry ever since. She managed Cal Poly’s Swanton Pacific Ranch heirloom apple orchard and herb garden in Davenport before overseeing Serendipity Farms’ market stands and sales distribution. More recently, she has worked with a local ginger company.

At the inaugural session in March of Flowers & Gin, her workshop series, Blandin Shea provided seasonal ingredients including juniper bark, jasmine and chamomile. While guests sniffed, crushed and swirled, to infuse spirits and syrups to bottle the flavors of spring, she poured her cocktails. For the namesake libation, Flowers & Gin, she blended gin, honey, chamomile, tangerine and strawberry, topping it with spring blooms. In a nod to winter’s departure, Blandin Shea created a drink called Cashmere, which featured foraged juniper, jasmine, almond milk and gin.

“I would say I’m a cocktail craftsman, creating a drink the way a chef would create a dish,” she says. “I aim for a sense of place and story with each sip.”

She fashions nonalcoholic versions of cocktails when the occasion calls for it.

For example, she developed a mock negroni for a fundraising dinner hosted by MEarth, a food and environment education nonprofit organization located on the Carmel Middle School campus. As a standin for the classic cocktail’s campari, she made a grapefruit peel and amaranth syrup; to replace the gin, she brewed a juniper, bay, sage and pine tea. With the richness of flavors, you didn’t miss the alcohol. She’s also game to interpret any theme.

For a private luxury watch release party, she used kale-cucumber juice to mirror the green face of Rolex’s Datejust Pearlmaster 39 and added garnishes that echoed the timepiece’s variegated sapphires. Blandin Shea also makes her own infusions, bitters, shrubs, tinctures, juices and other ingredients for her regular cocktail line, and carefully selects spirits to match them.

“I look at the desired outcomes of flavors and choose a spirit with the same notes or complementary notes to enhance the ingredients,” she says.

About her kaffir lime-bay leaf bitters, she says, “The cachaça sugar cane spirit is sweet and vanilla-like and works well with the astringent, woody notes in the bay and the tropical notes of kaffir lime.”

If you find yourself planning a wedding or other event with a budget for handing your bartending to an artist, but kaffir lime and bay aren’t your thing, no matter. Blandin Shea specializes in custom drink menus and offers complimentary tastings to make sure they’re what you have in mind. And she’ll even bring her own handmade bar.

Camilla M. Mann is a freelance writer, photographer and foodie blogger based in Seaside.

Bar Cart Cocktail Co. •

EXPLORE: Bar Cart Cocktail Co. will pair drinks with Big Sur Roadhouse’s entrant in the Carmel Valley Annual Chili Cook-off on Sept. 17 in Carmel Valley and will serve its nonalcoholic creations at The Party with Alton Brown on Oct. 3 at the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Make It Sustainable Weekend.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Chef Cesario Ruiz of My Mom’s Mole Unlocks the Sauce’s Mysteries {Edible Monterey Bay}

September 15, 2015 – this piece went live on the Edible Monterey Bay blog. Read it there.

Chef Cesario Ruiz of My Mom’s Mole Unlocks the Sauce’s Mysteries
Story by Camilla M. Mann

This Saturday, Friends of Santa Cruz Parks—a not-for-profit organization devoted to sustaining local state parks and beaches—hosts its third annual Mole & Mariachi Festival in downtown Santa Cruz. Six competitors will prepare their versions of mole, vying for two honors: Peoples’ Choice and Judges’ Choice. Mole, for those unfamiliar, is “like a Mexican curry,” explains Cesario Ruiz, the chef behind My Mom’s Mole and one of the festival’s contestants.

Mole, pronounced MOH-lay, is a general designation for a number of sauces used in Mexican cuisine. In the Aztec language Nahuatl, mōlli simply means “sauce.”

“Every region, and really every cook, has its own version,” says Ruiz. “It’s just a blend of spices and different ingredients.”

Mole is so versatile, in fact, that one region in Mexico boasts more than half a dozen different kinds, including mole negro, colorado, amarillo, verde, chichilo, and coloradito. Each of the six varieties has different colors and flavors based on their traditional combinations of distinctive chilis and herbs. The best known of Oaxaca’s moles is mole negro, named for its inky hue. It often includes chocolate in addition to its chili peppers, onions, garlic, and more.

But, for all its variations, all mole begins in the same way: with dried chili peppers. “Some chilis,” Ruiz says, “only grow in certain parts of Mexico. It’s the chilis that make mole unique.” Oaxaca, a region renowned for its moles, is large and mountainous, and, Ruiz continues, its climate is ideal for growing several different kinds of chili peppers.

Ruiz hails from Guanajuato, a region just to the east of Jalisco. “It’s a hot region,” he says, “so hot peppers are important to my mole.” The recipe he plans to enter on Saturday includes more than two-dozen ingredients and is more spicy than sweet. It was inspired by his mom’s recipe but he has added specific flavors and twists to make it his own.

In addition to tasting Ruiz’s signature mole at this weekend’s festivities, mole-lovers can spend an afternoon making the sauce with him at his new monthly classes at the El Pájaro CDC Commercial Kitchen Incubator in Watsonville. After partnering with Friends of Santa Cruz State parks for two mole classes this summer, Ruiz decided to continue sharing how to make one of Mexico’s culinary gems. His class, titled Mysteries of Mole Unlocked!, will be held the second Saturday of every month. 

When asked about his favorite way to use mole, Ruiz answers without a moment’s hesitation. “Tacos,” he says. “I like to take roasted chicken, pull it, and simmer it in mole until it’s thickened.” That meal takes only 30 minutes to assemble, but the mole takes longer to prepare. For the first four hours of his class, attendees will use locally sourced produce and experience how the complex ingredients come together to become mole. During the final hour of the class, they will sit down for a communal feast featuring the mole they’ve helped make.

“People will learn a lot, but more importantly, the environment is relaxed and fun,” he says. “People have a lot of time to explore and enjoy.”