Top chefs are rock stars. A so-called celebrity chef is a demigod. In Orange County the unique dining experience fronted by the latest demigod chef has spawned the creation of many a must-experience bistro on the local culinary guide to the good life. The foodie trend has been happening for some two decades, extensively pushed by electronic media.
Not too long-ago Ina Garten (“The Barefoot Contessa”) was booked in Segerstrom Hall. My daughter told me she had purchased two tickets to the show, and she said she couldn’t wait to see and hear the Barefoot Contessa.
What is this celebrity chef going to do on stage in front of 3,000 people in Segerstrom Hall? I started multiplying the ticket price times 3,000 seats, realizing that it totaled a great deal of cabbage.
So I figured out why Garten was coming to Costa Mesa. The next day I asked my daughter how the show was. She said it was incredible. They loved her. They clapped. They cheered.
Did she do a cooking demonstration? No, my daughter said. She just talked and answered questions.
As one of the most affluent communities in the nation it is no surprise that O.C. is a breeding ground for exceptional culinary talent. There are so many factors that go into a successful equation for a chef/restauranteur. Of course, the art of the chopping knife and the saucepan are of critical importance to the would-be celebrity chef, but there are a million other details that must be mastered in every chef’s dream experience.
Earlier this year South Coast Plaza, represented by family members Anton and Jennifer Segerstrom, joined by Executive Director of Marketing Debra Gunn Downing, invited a group of culinary watchers and lifestyle influencers to attend a most-unique and patently exquisite al fresco dinner under the Costa Mesa sky at the original Segerstrom Ranch home created in 1915 by the pioneer family that had moved to the West Coast in search of the perfect dirt in which to plant their lima bean fields.
The two-story wooden structure, with its simple architecture, pitched roof, clapboard siding, double hung windows and front porch with minimalist architectural embellishment has stood for more than 100 years surrounded by a garden planted by Segerstrom ancestors some four to five generations in the past. Beyond the garden, acres of rich soil remain where lima beans are still planted and harvested. Today, to the south of the farm rests the 405 Freeway and, to the east, the iconic South Coast Plaza and the gleaming towers of Costa Mesa.
This unique ranch dinner was created to introduce Orange County to two new chef-driven restaurants opening at South Coast Plaza this summer. Debuting in the penthouse will be a French restaurant, Knife Pleat, in the hands of Michelin-starred chef Tony Esnault and his wife and partner, Yassmin Sarmadi.
Also opening in South Coast Plaza is The Hall Global Eatery from chef Amar Santana and business partner Ahmed Labbate, which will offer high-quality casual quick breakfast and lunch and a full-service crudo and charcuterie bar with cocktails and wine. Both partnerships joined forces sharing the duties of creating the ranch house dinner, which was nothing short of spectacular.
The crowd arrived at sunset and was greeted by waiters dressed in all black, offering Veuve Cliquote Yellow Label Brut Champagne and a special concoction the chefs called a “Glass Fruit Fizz” made with Japanese whiskey, Meyer lemon, Segerstrom Ranch orange, vanilla and sparkling cherry tea. Sophie Gayot flew in from Paris, where she is a celebrated reporter on gastronomy, tourism and lifestyle through Gayot publications and online.
Bon vivant film producer and restaurant critic Jay Weston joined the party from his headquarters in Beverly Hills, escorting the lovely Penelope McTaggart. Two-time Emmy-winning journalist Derick Yanehiro, on assignment from “Good Morning America,” found new friends in Orange County’s celebrity chef Jamie Gwen and her food columnist mother, Lana Sills, all sampling scrumptious hors d’oeuvres, including Amar Santana’s Lima bean falafel with citrus labneh and Tony Esnault’s lima bean hummus.
The dinner bells rang, signaling the crowd to gather at one long wooden table that had been set up on the lawn under branches of citrus trees dripping with twinkling lights. Sunny Ravanbach, event and floral designer extraordinaire, under the label White Lilac, created a multi-blossom floral fantasia that stretched the entire length of the approximate 50-foot-long dinner table.
Both chefs and their partners addressed the assemblage and described the creative dinner to come. Four out-of-this-world courses began with salmon belly crudo by Santana, then a second course of legumes de saison by Esnault, which was basically a plate of steamed and raw, seasoned vegetables that were also roasted and braised with very little or no dressing whatsoever and were incredibly delicious.
Santana’s entrée was a grilled filet of beef; a vegetarian entrée was offered upon request. To cap the dinner, Esnault created a magnificent dessert, an elderflower panna cotta made of poached rhubarb, strawberries from Harry’s Berries and meringues.
Wine pairings were provided by Domane Wachau 2017 Terrassen Federspiel, Gruner Veltliner, Austria and Faust Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 from Napa Valley.
B.W. COOK is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.