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:
Sustainable sourcing will continue to be a key practice at Ventana.
You can definitely expect Persimmon season to be a party in the kitchen.
Partnerships will grow, and hopefully, so will the culinary community in Big Sur.
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!
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!Go To Magazine