Rich Table Honored with 2014 Michelin Bib Gourmand
Rich Table, a farmhouse-inspired restaurant in San Francisco, is an honoree of the 2014 San Francisco Michelin Bib Gourmand. Selected by Michelin food inspectors, Rich Table is one of 83 establishments that made the exclusive list. Michelin’s Bib Gourmand honors restaurants serving two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for $40 or less (tax and gratuity not included). These establishments are recognized by many for superb fare at a reasonable price. The 2014 Bib Gourmand features 22 different types of cuisines from restaurants across the greater San Francisco Bay Area.
Congratulations Rich Table in becoming an honoree!
See the full list of the 2014 Bib Gourmands.
La Casa Del Zorro Reopens
With much awaited anticipation, La Casa Del Zorro has re-opened its doors and is now fully operating each of its facilities. With more than 80 years of operation, the resort has been a historic treasure of scenic Anza-Borrego Desert. Located just 90 miles northeast of San Diego, it offers guests a romantic getaway and unprecedented service.
The luxury retreat boasts thousands of square feet in accommodations and amenities, from deluxe pool-side rooms to the expansive De Anza Ballroom to the renown Butterfield Room restaurant. Long-time guests and new visitors alike can enjoy the combined traditional and modern continental cuisine of Chef Kurt Hauser, who has returned to the Butterfield kitchen with a menu dedicated to reviving a true culinary experience. Deemed by many as the region’s most elegant dining locale, the restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. On warm summer nights, guests can dine poolside in the Rose Garden Terrace or enjoy private room service in casitas.
Visit La Casa Del Zorro’s blog to read more about the grand re-opening in their post, Journey of the Fox: A Look Back
Marketing Your Restaurant with Google Carousel
You may have noticed a change in the way Google is displaying search results for restaurants, hotels and other hospitality segments. While paid search engine ads typically appear in first position, the new visual carousel steals the spotlight for many hospitality-related searches.
What does this mean for your restaurant? It’s a golden opportunity to provide potential customers with a solid first impression and a chance to appear at the top of a search results page. Here’s how to optimize your establishment’s results to get listed and attract more customers.
What is the Google Local Carousel?
Now appearing at the top of many search results pages, the local carousel is a horizontal strip of images, reviews and business information. It displays up to 20 scrollable results in total, with 7-15 results at once, depending on browser size.
When performing broader local searches, organic results can be further modified by clicking on a carousel result. Example: “san diego restaurants”. Potential customers have the opportunity to learn more about your restaurant without performing an additional search. Refined first page search results include:
- Restaurant’s website
- Review sites with ratings for the establishment, such as UrbanSpoon, Yelp and Zagat
- Google Places for business page
- Google+ reviews
- Google map with panoramic interior view (if available)
The Importance of Photos
Imagery is the centerpiece of any restaurant marketing campaign, and it should be a focal point of your restaurant’s search engine optimization efforts. In the local carousel, images are generally pulled from Google+ and Google Business pages, and image quality plays a key role in ensuring your page’s photos are used. Google recognizes the quality of uploaded images, so opt for crisp, sharp images over blurry, unclear ones.
But what if your restaurant has not created these pages? Then carousel results will display images found on partnering sites, such as Zagat and TripAdvisor. This is the first view potential customers will have of your restaurant, and photos could be out of date or unappealing. Take control of your carousel presence by uploading attractive images to your Google pages that represent your property at its absolute finest.
Haven’t set up your restaurant’s page yet? Or could yours be better optimized? Use this comprehensive tutorial for setting up a Google+ business page.
The Power of Reviews
Users can filter their carousel results by the starred review rating, making online customer feedback even more valuable. Carousel placement is also affected by the number of Google user reviews a restaurant has, so encourage happy customers to log on to their Google+ accounts and write a review of your restaurant. Entice participants by offering an incentive, such as a free appetizer or dessert on their next visit with proof of review.
Whether a review is positive or negative does not give weight to your results ranking, but it could sway the opinion of potential customers. If your establishment has received negative reviews, here is one surefire method to get better restaurant reviews.
Customer Profile: Pinnacle Peak Country Club
The member-owned, well established country club, Pinnacle Peak, has created a luxurious and ideal atmosphere for their 325 club members. Located in Scottsdale, Arizona, the club offers a walkable 18-hole golf course, magnificent views of the Phoenix Valley skyline, and an architecturally award-winning Clubhouse with a full-service golf shop and intimate dining. The stunning Clubhouse invites members to an especially pleasing ambiance where they can enjoy a fine or casual dining experience with Chef Tim Robinson.
For over 8 years, Chef Tim has put together an array of remarkable and creative plates for members and guests. From comfort foods to elegant dishes, Chef Tim continues to satisfy appetites in a charming and memorable dining setting. We had the opportunity to interview Chef Tim about the extraordinary country club and his adventures as a chef at Pinnacle Peak.
RWS: Pinnacle Peak Country Club is recognized as a top country club in Scottsdale. How has the club maintained this well-regarded status?
Tim Robinson: Without a doubt, I would have to say the staff. Between the positive attitudes and the longevity of the team, we have built a great atmosphere in the past 6 years.
RWS: What qualities does the club hold that motivate you as an executive chef?
TR: Throughout the year, all of our club events change constantly on the annual calendar. Because of this, it allows me to create and execute new and old international dishes that members can enjoy.
RWS: There are many dining experiences that members can enjoy at Pinnacle Peak including casual fare, fine dining, 19th Hole cocktail lounge and a grill room. How do you make these dining experiences unique in each of the venues?
TR: I make these dining experiences unique for each venue by sticking to the basic rule of thumb – keep it simple. Here in Phoenix we have so many different cultures and backgrounds including a lot of mid-westerners so all of my menus contain at least one comfort dish.
RWS: Menu items change throughout the year – what creative presentations have you recently whipped up to excite the club members?
TR: At least three times a year we hold seasonal cooking demonstrations with wine pairings inside the kitchen. We always have a great turnout and everyone seems to have a good time.
RWS: What advice can you give to novice chefs with an interest in working in a country club atmosphere?
TR: I would tell them to remember that a country club is full service for the members. The limitations do not apply.
RWS: The very best dining experience that you’ve ever had— where were you and what made it so memorable?
TR: Being from Wisconsin, I have to say my best dining experiences always come from home. Sitting down with the whole family on Thanksgiving where everyone brings a dish, that reminds me of home.
Search Engine Marketing Tips for Restaurants
Retaining customers in the foodservice industry is tough, and the competition for attracting new ones is even fiercer. By budgeting a few marketing dollars for search engine ads, you can bolster brand awareness and get your message directly in front of your target audience. We’ve laid out some basic tips for optimizing your advertising campaigns and driving customer traffic.
The foundation of every ad campaign begins with keywords. Use a keyword tool or planner to find search terms related to your business and service offerings, and opt for phrase match over broad match for more targeted impressions.
- Branded keywords: Low-cost keywords that are built around your brand name. There will be little (if any) competition for these keywords, so when customers search specifically for your restaurant, your ad will most likely be shown in the top spot. With great ad copy and optimized site links, your ad creates an excellent opportunity to immediately establish your brand.
- Non-branded keywords: More expensive keywords that are built around broader search terms. When beginning their searches for where to eat, customers may use general terms such as “seafood restaurant “, “gluten-free restaurant” or “steakhouse”. In your campaigns, set your geographic location (e.g., Los Angeles or Dallas) so your ads will only be served for local searches. Another way to geo-target is by incorporating location terms into keyword phrases, such as “brunch restaurants san diego”, “gaslamp restaurants”, or “happy hour encinitas”.
Once keywords have been selected, it’s time to create tightly-knit ad groups and write ad copy. Don’t worry if ad groups have only one or two keywords – just make sure they’re related to each other and are relevant to the ad copy. Consider the following success tips when crafting your ads.
- Incorporate important keywords into the ad title, ad copy and display URL.
- Link ads to landing pages that match what’s being advertised instead of defaulting to the home page. For instance, if your ad mentions happy hour specials, link to your page on happy hour specials.
- Always include a call to action, which tells customers what to do after they click.
- Create two or more ad variations for each ad group and see which performs best for your niche.
- Feature a special offer that’s only available to customers who click on your ad. Use a dedicated landing page that is only shared with your paid ad, and use coupon redemptions to track the success.
- Highlight menu offerings that set your restaurant apart. $20 entrees? Prix fixe dinners? Locally sourced cuisine? Use this space for snappy messaging that quickly describes what you serve or offer.
- Make customers aware of additional services, such as on-site or in-restaurant catering, especially during high-traffic seasons. Consider mentioning your private dining services for family parties, company events and holiday gatherings. If you accept reservations, include the phone number.
- Improve your branding by spelling your restaurant’s name consistently. Also, ensure your display URL is spelled correctly. Misspelling your name will be viewed unfavorably.
Search engines typically allow for one link to display when your ad is served. However, by adding site links to ad groups, you can highlight additional areas of your website, such as menus, online reservations, location(s), services offered and gift card purchases. These ad extensions are a great way to promote your establishment by putting key information in front of customers right away.
Descriptive anchor text is key to generating clicks. Try out these powerful site link descriptions:
- Explore Our Menu
- View Dinner Menu
- Happy Hour Specials
- Sign Up For Offers
- Loyalty Program
- Make a Reservation
- Reserve Now
- Order Online
- View Our Events
- Parties & Events
- Wedding Catering
- Meet the Chef
- Purchase a Gift Card
Remember that anchor text doesn’t have to precisely match the name of your page. In fact, you’ll generate more click-throughs with relevant anchor text that is appealing or interesting to customers.
- Got Google+? In AdWords, link your restaurant’s account and display your +1 endorsements beneath your ads. Much like user reviews, social media builds consumer trust.
- Block yourself. Don’t pay for unnecessary clicks! For each campaign, block your IP address to prevent company website searches made from your establishment. Every click costs, no matter where the user is located.
- Optimize for mobile. The rise of smartphone technology has changed the way customers make their dining out decisions. Be sure to create separate ad campaigns that are tailored for mobile search and include your phone number in the ad copy.
- Create a schedule. If you have call extensions enabled with your phone number or reservation hotline, set up an ad schedule so these ads only run during business hours.
Customer Profile: Gladstone’s Long Beach
Celebrating its 9th anniversary this month, Gladstone’s Long Beach has a lot to be proud of. The restaurant has been praised for its exceptional food and magnificent views, and was voted the number one seafood restaurant in Southern California.
Located in the heart of Long Beach’s new waterfront development, Gladstone’s Long Beach offers a diverse menu of fresh seafood, delicious grilled steaks and award winning Boston Clam Chowder. We had the privilege of interviewing Chef Pete Lehmar to learn more about Gladstone’s success, his personal accomplishments, and an exciting new cookbook.
R.W. Smith: For over 9 years, you have been the Executive Chef at Gladstone’s Long Beach. How has the restaurant evolved over the years to set itself apart from the competition?
Pete Lehmar: We started with big plates, big portions and big ambitions. With the economic down turn in 2007 and 2008, we reconsidered the large portions and began to re-plate and down size some of our huge portion sizes. The one thing we never compromised was the quality and freshness of our seafood. After winning the #1 Seafood Restaurant in Long Beach and surrounding cities by Press Telegram Readers, we continue to provide the freshest seafood in the market place. Because I have fishermen working for me in Hawaii and up and down the coast of California, I often get to say, “this swordfish was swimming yesterday.” I know the guy who caught it and I know the name of the boat.
We set ourselves apart from the competition by being in a position where, when something is not working, we can change it immediately. Daily printed menus, staff education and our passion for fresh seafood is our strength. We are also blessed to have a strong crew working in the kitchen. A handful of our team have been here since day one and another handful have been here 8 of our 9 years.
RWS: The restaurant recently acquired a receiver’s license for purchasing seafood direct from fisherman. What benefits does the license bring to the establishment and to guests?
PL: It is the first year of the license. A little bit of a challenge, but the year is not over yet. I am networking with local fishermen and this week; Trevor is going to get me some spiny lobsters and maybe some local rock fish. The process does require getting up at 3 in the morning and being the first to arrive at the docks when the boats are coming in. For the guest with a true interest, it is fun to tell them that a particular product was brought in this morning. There is a story behind all the fish and seafood that come into restaurant; getting that story to the service staff and to the guest is one of the things that make this business fun.
RWS: Gladstone’s Long Beach is known for its Award Winning Boston Clam Chowder. What has made this such a popular dish among your customers?
PL: CREAM, BUTTER AND CLAMS! I think the recipe is nearly 40 years old. It is the only menu item that is from the original Gladstone’s in Malibu. The rest of our menu is our reflection of some of the items that has made Gladstone’s such a great institution. Because the recipe is so simple, we are able to maintain a highly consistent product that is always rich, creamy and tasty. We make 45 gallons a week! Thank you, Long Beach, for loving Gladstone’s Clam Chowder so much.
RWS: Last March you received the Judges and People’s Choice Award at Chowderfest 2013. Please share with readers what this recognition means to you.
PL: I am very lucky. There was some strong competition at the event and there were several really good chowders. It is a proud feeling to win a competition like this. It means that everyone likes the way you cook, and that by itself is what keeps you going. The pride, the competition and the respect you build with your team and colleagues is priceless. I promise that next year is going to be even tougher; the competition is going to turn up the intensity at all levels. It is two years in a row that I won People’s Choice.
Because of the victory, I was invited to the 35th Annual Monterey Wine Festival and West Coast Chowder Championships last May. I was at the 33rd and was completely blown out of the water by 30-plus Chefs from Monterey, Carmel, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle. My eyes were set on placing in Clam Chowder and Creative Chowder. I can tell you the Chefs really brought it with respect to taste and presentation. I was checking-in my creative chowder to the judges table, Salmon Gravlox Chowder with Asparagus and Dill, and the Chefs around me had these huge platters with foliage growing on the rims, dry ice smoking from under their copper pots and shrimp and crab sticking out the tops. I looked at my bowl of chowder on the show plate thinking, Oh well, I hope I can just place in the clam chowder. Three hours later, I took a number tagging me with the Salmon Chowder entry and wadded it up in my back pocket. They announced the winner of the Creative Chowder – 208c – and my heart stopped. That’s me, I think, searching through my pocket for the number. It was great fun!
RWS: You recently authored the Gladstone’s Long Beach Cookbook, which is due to publish in December 2013. Please tell us what (or who) inspired you to write your first cookbook and which recipes you’re most excited to share with home cooks.
PL: It has always been something that I have wanted to do. Now that I am the Chef of the restaurant going into our tenth year, it just makes sense to share what we do with all our fans. We have fantastic pictures of all our food, we are writing about the restaurant, writing about oysters and we are finalizing a couple more recipes. Our clam chowder recipe is 17 gallons, so to make that for 6 or 8 requires a little time.
I cannot even begin to tell you how many times someone asks me for a recipe, especially Lobster Mac ‘n’ Cheese. We serve it everywhere, so all the requests for the recipe through email or telling a friend how to make it over the phone or a guest in the dining room from the Midwest…soon, I will be able to simply say, “‘Buy the book.”
25 Ways to Enhance Restaurant Marketing with Social Media
The ever-growing popularity and effectiveness of using social media means restaurants can give their marketing efforts a significant boost, regardless of budget. However, most restaurants cannot tackle all of the social media platforms available to them, so it’s best to give full attention to a handful that are most relevant to restaurants and foodservice. We’ve laid out 25 low-cost tips for incorporating four major social channels into your restaurant marketing strategy.
- Photo Albums – Increase engagement and lure hungry customers to your restaurant by posting enticing photos of menu items on your timeline and creating albums around themes.
- Daily Specials – Upload an appetizing snapshot of the day’s featured item.
- Seasonal Décor & Dishes – Customers love themed-restaurants, so why not show off during the holidays with inviting photos? Be courageous: incorporate Valentine’s Day themed desserts with corresponding décor, go green for St. Patrick’s Day, add in a little scare for Halloween, or go all out for Christmas.
- Staff Appreciation Events – A happy staff leads to happy customers. Capture fun company activities and share them with fans.
- Chefs in Action – Give fans a glimpse from behind the scenes. Spurred by the open kitchen trend, this level of transparency helps to build trusted relationships with customers and increases the likelihood of return business. Take it a step further and include recipes and cooking tips from chefs in photos or photo descriptions.
Discussions and Questions
- Target Your Audience – Engage customers with status updates that ask direct questions, such as “Which menu item is your favorite?” or “What seasonal flavor do you think should be featured on our upcoming weekly special?”
- Customer Service – Quickly address any questions or concerns that arise via social channels.
- Deals – Generate more sales and bring in more customers with incentives. Provide a coupon code or a key word for your customers to mention when they checkout to receive a small discount off their total or a complementary item with minimum purchase.
- Rewards – Encourage fans to snap a pic while dining at your restaurant, either of their party or the dish they ordered, then share it on your page with a special hashtag. A drink “on the house” is the perfect thank you!
- Expand Your Reach – Create tabs for restaurant-specific features, such as a menu preview, email subscribe form or information about online reservations (with a link to the reservation form, of course!).
- Fan Gate – Increase page likes by offering an incentive for new fans. Once liked, the tab will reveal a special offer and generate in-restaurant business.
- Informational Tweets – Providing details about food, food safety, new openings and local cuisines is a great way to keep your followers engaged.
- Customer Service – Respond to any comments, complaints or check-ins in a timely manner. Being responsive and human is an important aspect of successful social media marketing. If you catch sight of an outrageous tweet about your restaurant, be sure to address it as soon as possible by replying to the customer and providing them with a contact email or phone number.
- Re-tweet – Share informative tweets and positive customer experiences on your feed.
- Grow Followers – Hashtags are searchable, and when users find your hashtags relevant to their interests, it increases the likelihood they will follow you.
- Promotions – Create a hashtag around your promotion and share it with customers across other social channels. Also be sure to mention it in relevant blog posts and emails to generate awareness.
- Contests and Giveaways – A personalized hashtag can be used by customers to enter a photo contest (which also makes tracking entrants a breeze). If the contest involves going to the restaurant and taking a photo of their meal, it’s an easy way to draw in business.
- TV Ads – Does your restaurant run television commercials? If so, upload them through YouTube and broaden your reach.
- Sneak Peek – Offer exclusive access to what goes on behind-the-scenes. Showcase a new restaurant or bar to build excitement for the grand opening, follow chefs through a day at the farmer’s market, or show a preview of an upcoming event as its being set up.
- Announcements – Tantalize taste buds with brief videos featuring new dishes, menu additions or changes in cuisine.
- Mouthwatering food snaps – A photo-based platform, Instagram focuses on show rather than tell, which is ideal for restaurants. Show off your culinary skills by posting visually-appealing images of your savory delights.
- Dining Room Décor – Give potential guests a preview of your restaurant by uploading photos of its décor. Atmosphere and ambiance factor in to decisions about where to eat.
- Hashtags – Hashtags make it easier for customers to find your photos. Consider using these hashtags to make your post more visible.
- Link Accounts – Connect your other social media accounts with Instagram so uploaded photos can be easily shared on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Flickr.
- Photo Maps – Tag the location of where your photos were taken. These maps organize photos by location and allow users to explore where others have taken photos in similar locations. If your restaurant has multiple establishments, you can easily display photos by location.
Restaurant Marketing Tips to Drive Holiday Sales
Seasonal décor may keep the air festive and merry, but frenzied holiday shoppers are hungry for more than a cheery atmosphere. Since the holiday season is the foodservice industry’s cash cow, restaurants need to be pro-active to get a sizeable slice of the dining market. Stay ahead of the holiday dining competition and guarantee return business all winter long with these smart promotion ideas and savvy marketing techniques.
Types of Restaurant Holiday Promotions
Holiday promotions should boost sales and bring value to customers without simultaneously slashing your margins. Shoppers are in a celebratory spirit, which means they’re more open to spending. With October already in full swing, it’s time to start planning your promotions and creating memorable experiences for loyal and new customers alike.
During the holidays, gift cards offer customers a quick solution for appeasing even the most difficult to shop for. Restaurants can skip the cost of plastic and opt for virtual gift cards instead, which are much easier to share and are a better choice for last-minute purchases. Plus, including a “reserve now” link will make it easy for customers to take advantage of reservations. Sales tend to drop off in January, and though gift cards are pre-purchased, guests who redeem them can boost post-holiday revenue in way of cocktails, tips and order totals that exceed the gift card amount.
Get even more out of gift card sales by offering a “gift for you, gift for me” deal. For instance, if a customer purchases a gift card of $50, they will receive one for $10 on the house. Another option is to offer a complimentary appetizer or dessert with a gift card purchase. Discounts may create a sense of drumming up business; instead, offer something that drives return sales and makes customers feel appreciated.
With the holidays comes the influx of group celebrations. From corporate parties to family reunions, there are a multitude of opportunities to employ your catering services. Drive sales by letting your guests know these services are available. Consider private reservations at times when business is slow, or bring your menu to the guest with off-site event services. Take advantage of post-holiday celebrations by offering special deals on your catering services during the winter months.
Loyal customers are more than just regular diners – they’re your brand enthusiasts. Reward them with extra incentives available only to program members. Keep them coming back by offering free menu items on their next visit. Also, reward new members with a complimentary dish or beverage just for signing up.
Limited Time Menu Options
From holiday treats to seasonal soups, it’s easy to whet customer appetites by offering something new. Create a delectable holiday menu with distinctive seasonal fare that will motivate customers to dine at your restaurant because of the limited time it’s available.
Tips for Marketing Restaurant Holiday Promotions
Whether in-restaurant or online, spreading the word about your holiday promotions should be a snap. The best time to begin your marketing campaigns is in October and the early weeks of November. Vying for the attention of hungry holiday diners can be difficult, so your best course of action is to create awareness early and across as many channels as you have available. Below are just some of the myriad marketing tricks you can use this holiday season.
- Strategically place promotional brochures and window signage where customers are most apt to see them.
- Encourage wait staff to remind guests about upcoming promotions, catering services and gift cards.
- Create a business card that highlights your loyalty program and include it with the guest check.
- Let customers know about special offers available exclusively to email club members and tell them of the simple steps to sign up.
- Incorporate social media links and an email sign up field for easy cross-promotion of your marketing channels.
- Provide details about purchasing gift cards and buy one, get one deals online.
- Increase guest reservations by including a “reserve now” button at the top of your home page. Designate a web page (or two) to your loyalty program and list all of the great features included with enrollment.
- Create a web page that highlights your catering services for private holiday parties and off-site events.
- Feature your limited time appetizers, entrees or desserts with mouthwatering photos.
- Not all guests have the same palette. If you opt to roll out weekly menu items, showcase them here to generate greater interest among customers.
- Send a holiday newsletter featuring your seasonal promotions, a catering services blurb, links to online reservations and digital gift card pages, and value-add content such as a warm beverage recipe or chef video.
- Motivate guests to dine at your restaurant by offering an offline incentive through your newsletter. One option: give guests who dine in December a special offer redeemable in January with proof of purchase. Or, grow your list by giving the first 100 subscribers in November a sweet holiday treat from your dessert menu.
- Engage with loyalty program and email club members weekly. Announce promotions and programs to them before posting to other marketing channels, and offer a sneak preview of upcoming holiday menu items.
- Cross-promote deals to get your fans and followers excited. Social media makes it easy for customers to share your content on their own timelines and micro-blogs.
- Keep the festive spirit going and encourage guests to share snapshots with friends and family from your restaurant.
- Announce special offers for email club members and include a link to your email sign up form, which can also be a tab on your Facebook page.
- Create a Facebook fangate with an incentive for liking your company page, then share the link on Twitter.
- Upload enticing photos of seasonal menu items that will tempt their taste buds.
Is your restaurant ready for the holiday rush? Check out our quick tip survival guide for everything from planning ahead to perking up weary staff.
Customer Profile: The Fatted Calf
When Chef Ted Grieb concluded that Rockwall was missing a full-service, comfortable and farm-friendly restaurant, he set out to fill the void. An experienced restaurant owner already, he knew exactly what it would take to make his vision a success. Read on to learn more about Grieb’s culinary journey, his approach to seasonal and local favors, and his second restaurant endeavor, The Fatted Calf.
R.W. Smith: The Fatted Calf opened in July 2011. What inspired you to open the restaurant?
Ted Grieb: We are located in the historical downtown area of Rockwall. I had previously opened and owned an American-Italian restaurant, and while had been open for 6 years, I still noticed the need for a great brunch and American dinner restaurant. At The Fatted Calf, we serve brunch and dinner 6 days a week.
RWS: How do local flavors find their way into your cuisine?
TG: I am always on the lookout for local purveyors who will bring us seasonal food and products. We have a small tight-knit community here. Rockwall is the type of town where everyone knows your name. It is great to purchase and prepare foods that come from your own town and friends.
RWS: You describe your mother as being a great cook and your father as a gifted fisherman. How did their talents help shape your culinary career?
TG: I grew up in a small farming community in South Jersey, where produce and products were very important to my mother, Eileen, who taught me how to cook. She showed me how to use summer produce to cook seasonally and how to bottle and can those great products for the fall and winter. My mother showed me how to have fun and enjoy cooking. My father was a great sport fisherman, who taught me how to fish and respect the flavors of what we caught.
RWS: With the holidays approaching, how will The Fatted Calf infuse seasonal flavors into its menu?
TG: We have already started using the bounty of fall. After a long Texas summer, autumn’s cooler weather really gets you excited about seasonal flavors. With that in mind, I have already been using winter greens, squashes, ciders and local honey.
RWS: Incorporating fresh ingredients into menu offerings is a rising trend in the restaurant industry. How does The Fatted Calf make the most of this trend?
TG: Well it’s something I have always done in my culinary career. Giving our guests a delicious meal at night, which was neither butchered or filleted [that morning], is the key to freshness.
RWS: Through the cooking class series, you teach guests proper cooking techniques as they explore new dinner and drink recipes. Tell us more about this engaging series.
TG: The cooking series has been a great success for us and our guests. Our menu changes monthly, with new items according to the season. First, we all sit at the bar to look over what is going to be prepared and drink. Then, we go into the kitchen, prepare the meal, and select some great cocktails to pair along with the meal, as well as prepare them. After that, we sit down and have dinner as one big family. It is a great night.
Customer Profile: The Red Door Restaurant & Wine Bar
In September, two popular San Diego restaurants, The Red Door Restaurant & Wine Bar and The Wellington Steak & Martini Lounge, welcomed a new executive chef, Karrie Hills. Her fresh spin on traditional cuisine and passion for using fresh ingredients from local farmers make her the ideal chef for these farm-friendly restaurants. Read our interview to learn more about Chef Hills, San Diego’s food culture, local trends and more.
R.W. Smith: We want to congratulate you on your new position! As the new chef in two popular San Diego restaurants, what novel and fresh ideas will you be using to inspire patrons?
Karrie Hills: I’m going to be using the abundance of fresh ingredients from The Red Door Family Garden as my plate inspiration. I’m also going to be merging my classic French background and farm-to-table cooking.
RWS: Previously, you worked in Paso Robles, north of Santa Barbara. How has working in San Diego compared?
KH: I believe that there’s a real culinary movement happening with farm-to-table and educating our children about what’s happening with our food: the mass production and overwhelming amount of processed food that’s being created to feed everybody. The emphasis on nutrient-dense food here is similar to that in Northern California. People are aware of the ingredients. They seek a better quality of life.
RWS: Are there any local culinary trends that took you by surprise?
KH: The San Diego culinary community is nichey and powered by a modest number of chefs, even though it’s small. There are hundreds of restaurants, but an elite few are making it happen and I want to be part of that charge.
RWS: Any that took you by surprise?
KH: The pretzel bun for burgers. *laughs*
I think what took me by surprise is the abundance of recipes using nutritious ingredients like kale and Brussels sprout, which has been trending over the last few years. Chefs have the pressure of making nutrient-dense food taste good and they rise to the occasion daily. It’s been received very well by the community and I didn’t expect that. It makes me really happy.
RWS: How does your cooking style differ from competing restaurants with similar cuisine as your menu?
KH: I believe that every chef cooks differently, just as we all wear shoes differently. I have a lot of passion and a lot of love and that comes out in my dishes. We also have the unique ability to grow produce to spec. For instance, I don’t have to simply dream of the smallest beets you’ve ever seen; we can grow them. I don’t have to search for a rare type of basil; we can grow it. As far as ingredients go, we only grow it — and I only cook it — during its proper season.
RWS: The very best dining experience that you’ve ever had— where were you and what made it so memorable?
KH: I was at Cyrus in Santa Rosa. The wow factor was there the whole time. I’ve never seen a dining room work in such silence, as far as the servers and their eye on detail. The food, the presentation, the whole thing — it was just phenomenal.