Date: Aug 01, 2014
August 2014-Western Grower Ag Legal Network

Start with a Black Belt in karate, add a dash of The French Laundry, a Michelin star, or two, and mix with a showing on Bravo’s Top Chef as a finalist and what do you have?  Chef Louis Maldonado, a rising young master of the culinary world who is nothing short of astonishing.

Chef Louis’ culinary workshop will takes place Monday morning, Nov. 3, at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, during the Western Growers 89th Annual Meeting.

At his newest restaurant, Spoonbar, in Healdsburg, CA, Chef Louis makes every meal a memorable event and expresses a philosophy of food that focuses on the origin of each ingredient and a large portion of vegetables, fruits and nuts.  In one meal he presents a variety of tastes and ingredients so encompassing it becomes an adventure in eating.  But this adventure also has a purpose.  Everything he cooks, Chef Louis says, is sourced from a certain place for a reason. In fact, he partners with several local farmers who grow his special ingredients.

“What you see is what you taste,” says Chef Louis.  “Amazing potatoes, carrots and types of lettuces most people have never seen before.”

How about “Quinoa Green?”  This is the spicy-tasting leaf of the quinoa plant that Chef Louis sautés in a little olive oil and some amaranth and serves with his King salmon fricassee.  Or would you like to taste his red La Ratte potatoes?  What’s that, you say?  These special rosy tubers are waxy, very sweet and very tasty.  Chef Louis cooks them in salted water, then smashes them, fries them and tosses them in aioli and garlic and tops with bottarga (salted, dried and pressed mullet roe from a small Mediterranean fish).  What will he think of next?

For his cooking demonstration for Western Growers’ members at the Bellagio Hotel’s Tuscany Demonstration Kitchen, Maldonado plans to use a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.  He will try to represent as many specialty crops as possible, and prepare them in unique and interesting ways.  Would you like to join us?  It’s quite a show and you may even get a taste or two!

He will of course, concoct several salads: some with avocado, some with rare lettuces, and another with a mix and match of delectable vegetables, perhaps.  “I might throw in some cherries and pistachios here and there,” he says.

He is thinking up a new cocktail (Spoonbar has a unique and critically-acclaimed cocktail program) that has a citrus fruit playing a key role, but it will certainly not resemble your ordinary Tequila Sunrise.  At Spoonbar, The Argentinian is a popular cocktail: Fernet Branca, Fernet Leopold, reduced Mexican Coca-Cola, lime and bitters.

His philosophy of food has led him to partner with several local growers.  One provides him with most of the produce for Spoonbar, like strawberries, squash, a variety of onions, stone fruits, lettuces, broccoli and other vegetables and fruits; another with bread flour; and others with wine.

“Dining in modern America is about flavorful, delicious food,” says Chef Louis.  “I think it is also important to really pay attention to what you’re eating.  Food really matters and it’s a good idea to know where your food comes from.”

At Spoonbar, 60-70 percent of the food is produce-based, followed by fish and then meat.  “This is our order of importance,” says Chef Louis.  “This is what we want to feature first.”

To Western Growers’ members, Chef Louis’ food philosophy is “music to our ears.”

This summer, he is using lots of berries — Logan berries, boysenberries, blackberries.  It is the main focus at Spoonbar.  He puts all the different berries in one dessert with a pistachio sponge cake made with condensed milk.  In another, he roasts the berries and serves them crushed with Bohemian creamery cheese.

Chef Louis didn’t grow up wanting to become a chef.  He says it was a “random venture” at age 20 when he didn’t yet have a plan for his life.  In 2001, instead of going into the family’s karate business, he enrolled in the California Culinary Academy then landed his first professional spot at One Market and later at Cortez where he was mentored by chef-owners Quinn and Karen Hatfield.  In 2006, he was promoted to co-executive chef and under his direction Cortez was awarded one Michelin star.  In 2008, he joined The French Laundry and then became the executive chef at Cafe Majestic in San Francisco when he received the Rising Star Chef award by the San Francisco Chronicle.  Next, he went to work with acclaimed Chef Mourad Lahlou at the Michelin-starred Aziza who combined inventive Moroccan and San Francisco cuisine.  They did a lamb dish, he recalls, where they steamed the meat all day in water, butter and Moroccan spices.  They served it with couscous, herbs and toasted bread.  It was eaten with the hands.  Mmmmm.

In early 2012, Chef Louis joined Spoonbar and has received rave reviews ever since. “What a difference a chef makes” was the opening line of the Chronicle’s review after he joined the operation.  The reviewer praised the transformation.  Chef Louis promises to bring the same energy and expertise to his Western Growers workshop appearance.

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