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A Menu Where Mountain Meets Sea: An Interview with Executive Chef Zachary Ladwig
A Menu Where Mountain Meets Sea: An Interview with Executive Chef Zachary Ladwig

We often find ourselves inspired by the natural world around us at Alila Ventana Big Sur. And with this appreciation for nature, we tend to become collaborators with the earth– Creating art, experiences, menus, music, and more. One of our greatest collaborators with the environment is our very own Executive Chef Zachary Ladwig. We sat down with him to learn more about how his menu curation aligns with the nature of Big Sur. Here’s what we he had to say:

On Backyard Ingredients:

Showing his admiration of Big Sur, Chef noted, “The landscape here is striking, it’s really breathtaking. The uniqueness of it is the aqua hues and the fact that we’re set on a steep hillside overlooking the ocean. We have the best of all worlds, and we use the best of what’s around us.” He told us that many of the ingredients on your plate come from the land around you: Mushrooms and herbs, foraged from the land; Locally, and sustainably sourced seafood from the Pacific Ocean; and even fresh pasta, made daily with eggs from the neighborhood hens.

On Community in a Culinary World:

While Chef runs a tight ship in the kitchen, the sourcing of ingredients takes a village– And fortunately, the Big Sur community is bountiful and generous. Here are some of the incredible partnerships that allow Chef Zachary to create uniquely flavorful dishes with his ‘ingredient-forward’ approach:

  • Chickens from Fog Line

  • Ducks from 38 North 

  • Produce from Rancho Rico (including Chef’s favorite: persimmons!)

  • Mushrooms and herbs from local foresters

  • Seafood from local fishermen

On His Strengths & Faves:

“Before coming to Alila Ventana Big Sur, I was at Dunton Hot Springs and Inn at Dos Brisas. We did all organic farming on the property, so I bring a strong ambition to maintain the integrity, simplicity, and purity of each ingredient. My strength is working with single vegetables, and single vegetable families, and highlighting them in a dish”. You can see this technique by Chef carried through in dishes like his organic carrots with carrot miso dressing and herbs.

As for favorites, we tempted Chef to tell us his all-time favorite ingredient. His current obsession? Persimmons! With excitement, he told us, “This ingredient has been a favorite of mine for a long time. When they come around each season, I try to do something new with them. It’s a unique, sweet fruit that lends itself to more savory dishes. Down the road, there’s an antique orchard that’s been bringing in amazing persimmons for the last two weeks– We’re talking over 100lb per week! We’re pretty fortunate”. 

On Dining Like a Pro:

We asked Chef if there was any advice he’d give a food novice when approaching the menu at Ventana Big Sur. He encouraged an open mind (and empty stomach), an appreciation for the purity of the ingredients, and the willingness to try new things. His recommended dinner order? He says, “Start with the organic carrots with carrot miso dressing & herbs. Then, the beetroot cured salmon with baby beets & housemade yogurt. Our pasta is all made in house, so move into handmade seaweed spaghetti with sea urchin sauce”. Sounds like a true Big Sur palette exploration to us!

On His Dream Dinner:

Of course we had to ask the age-old question (with a twist): If you could cook for, and then dine with anyone in the world, who would it be? His answer: “I’ve gotten to cook for so many neat people throughout my career. If I could cook for anyone and then dine with them, it would be my 6-year old son who lives in Texas. He has an amazing palette, and he always comes with great dinner questions”. Hearts=melted.

And Finally, On The Future:

You may think a new Executive Chef in town would mean a new menu, new rules, new everything. Not with Chef Zachary. He firmly believes in the motto “Slow is fast and fast is smooth”-- A saying aligned to his approach in stepping into this new role. He says, “Immediate change is not a thing I’m doing. Steady, incremental changes is the way to go”. 

A few things we can predict in a future with Chef Zachary leading the way:

  1. Sustainable sourcing will continue to be a key practice at Ventana.

  2. You can definitely expect Persimmon season to be a party in the kitchen.

  3. Partnerships will grow, and hopefully, so will the culinary community in Big Sur.

  4. The natural landscape will inspire our new chef and his (incremental) menu additions. 

As for now, we’ll be eagerly waiting to see what Chef creates next!

Special Note:

On behalf of Alila Ventana Big Sur, we’d like to thank our partners and vendors for their business, friendship, and generosity. We are lucky to work with those who also value sustainability and eco-responsibility in the culinary world. If you are visiting the area, we encourage you to pay a visit to our partners and shop local for the best ingredients in Big Sur!

Mindful Travel: Experiences with Intention
Mindful Travel: Experiences with Intention

Mindful travel is more than the thought process behind planning your stay, booking your flight, and checking off a packing list. It’s when you use your time away to become closer to yourself and the world around you. At Alila Ventana Big Sur, we encourage you to move, gaze, listen, and be still with intention. 

And it’s also why we offer Signature Experiences and Alila Experiences, thoughtfully crafted to help you tap into your most mindful self:

1. Morning Movement

There’s nothing like a guided flow of movement to start your day with an energizing buzz of endorphins. We invite you to join us for Tai Chi, Yoga and Meditation, or a stroll through the property to awaken the body, mind, and heart with mindful actions.

Dig Deeper: Tune in to your body’s rhythm by focusing on your breathing during every movement.

2. Take a Hike

Nature is a luxury and you deserve to immerse yourself in its wonder. Go on our guided Redwood Hike and be an observer of all things big and small in the world around you. Fill your lungs with the air of mountain and sea as you climb a gentle grade of 1000 ft. on our daily Coast Ridge Hike. And if you’re really looking to get lost in nature (while staying on the right path) sign up for our Into The Wilderness Adventure program, curated by our experts to guide you through Big Sur’s most awe-inspiring landscapes.

Dig Deeper: Tap into your sense of awe as you explore the world with fresh eyes.

3. Listen With Your Soul

Dive into your deepest self with our Unity Alchemy Sound Journey experience. This ancient healing technique aims to stimulate the body’s natural mechanisms to heal itself through the vibrations of alchemy crystal singing bowls, rattles, tuning forks and chimes. A guided meditation will take you to a deep state of peace and relaxation, ending with a traditional sage clearing to leave you feeling rejuvenated. 

Dig Deeper: Journal about your experience to explore the emotions felt before and after.

4. Do Nothing

Seriously. Go to a place that speaks to you– The rocky shores of Molera Beach, a shady spot under the towering Redwoods, or an unparalleled view of the Pacific Ocean perched on the cliffs of Big Sur’s coast. And then once you’re there, do nothing. Be still in the moment and let intuition guide you. Maybe you’ll find a spark of inspiration, or a wave of calm. No matter what you discover within, welcome it with gratitude. 

Dig Deeper: Challenge yourself to be screen-free during your time of stillness.

Mindful travel. It’s more than making memories– It’s about creating a connection with nature, while learning more about yourself along the way. Now is the time to venture to Alila Ventana Big Sur and elevate your experiences with intention.

Tapping Into Awe at Alila Ventana Big Sur
Tapping Into Awe at Alila Ventana Big Sur

We’d like to introduce you to our favorite feeling: Awe. Awe is the emotion you feel when you’re in the presence of something vast or not immediately understood. In Big Sur, we are humbled each day by the majestic and otherworldly beauty around us. It’s a place where awe is found at every turn.  

Why do we love the idea of awe? In the podcast, How to Be a Better Human, host Chris Duffy explores the ‘science of happiness’ and learns of a study done by Dr. Virginia Sturm, professor of neurology and psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of California at San Francisco. The study had participants go on an ‘awe walk’ in nature for 15 minutes each day. And what made this different from your average stroll through the trees? They were instructed to walk with the intention of tapping into awe, looking at the world around them with a childlike sense of wonder. 

The results: Those who tapped into the feeling of awe for just 15 minutes a day had increased levels in compassion, gratitude, and joy that stayed with them long after their walk ended. 

This is why we fully embrace awe at Alila Ventana Big Sur. We encourage every guest to arrive with an open heart and the intention of looking at the world around them in a new way. We want you to experience wonder, create deeper connections, and leave with the elevated sense of compassion, gratitude and joy. 

As you prepare for your Alila Ventana retreat, here is our list of favorite awe-provoking moments on your journey to the immaculate central coast of Big Sur:

  • Highway 1

Embracing the curves of Big Sur’s staggering coastline

  • Andrew Molera State Park: Headlands Trail

Allowing yourself to feel small under the towering redwood trees

  • Bixby Bridge

Marvel at the perfect intersection of architecture and nature

  • Point Lobos

Peer into the secret lives of the local sea otters & harbor seals. What are they talking about on those rocks?

  • Your Room!

Take a moment to truly tap into the gratitude you feel during your stay

Autumn Equinox
An Ode to the Invisible Autumn of Big Sur
An Ode to the Invisible Autumn of Big Sur

When autumn rolls through the central coast of California, there’s a shift in energy– Unseen, but felt deep in the soul. The beauty of our landscape is one which doesn’t embark on a deep transformation into the fiery hues of fall. While the waves keep crashing and the redwoods remain tall, it’s the air around us that lets us know a new season has arrived.

It’s crisp. Autumn air is a kind that fills your lungs and leaves you energized with every exhale. It’s the coolness around you that makes your coffee taste better, your blankets feel cozier, and your heart feel warmer with nostalgia and comfort. It’s a sign to embrace the tranquility of the changing season with every invigorating breath.

It’s the ambience of fall that channels our inner creative to come out from the shadows. Match the moodiness of the landscape around you and feel deeply in everything you do. Wander down new paths, indulge in a seasonal menu item you might not always choose, or search for inspiration between the cliffs and the horizon. 

When your retreat to Alila Ventana happens to land in the midst of this autumnal equinox, we encourage you to embrace the fresh air and tap into the changes you may experience yourself. Perhaps you find a hidden talent for spotting owls between the branches. Or maybe you allow a creative intuition to lead you towards a new experience of art and nature. As the days grow shorter, you may find yourself preferring to move your body under a star-filled sky with night hikes, yoga or a dip in the pool.

Autumn in Big Sur is felt deeply. We welcome brisk mornings and cloudy afternoons. We create sanctuary in the changing season and invite you to experience autumn at Alila Ventana Big Sur by embracing change in yourself.


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