Thursday, December 16, 2010
He can do a money impression of everyone from Cal Stamenov – whom he helped make Bernardus’ Marinus restaurant the destination it is today – to local gardening semi-celeb Mark Marino. His fresh day boat scallops ($24) – kissed with citrus brown butter and paired with segments of satsuma mandarin – are tender heaven. His pain threshold under pressure is admirable: He broke his arm wrestling the day before his wedding and successfully kept it secret through the ceremony.
But Carmel Valley Ranch Executive Chef Tim Wood’s impressive – and atypical – tendencies don’t stop there. Perhaps most impressive among them: his candor.
As he took a couple of guests through a diaspora of deliciousness earlier this month – from an earthy beet salad to a spot-on short rib to a holiday-appropriate matzoh ball soup good enough to make Jewish foodies jealous – he shot straight in a way you wouldn’t expect.
“Cal came in for a visit and was ready to pound the table,” he said of an early staff service mistake. “Making this happen has been an adventure.”
Other unfiltered flavor from the stream of consciousness that accompanied our sequence of small plates: “I don’t think most people know how hard a start-up is”; “I want people to know what they’re eating – nothing too overmanipulated”; “I’m like the Christopher Walken of chefs.”
His easy openness also makes him a perfect poster boy for what the greater Carmel Valley Ranch wants to be: accessible and fun, not pretentious or uptight.
“We have an opportunity to be playful,” he says. “Our goal is for people to be happy. Just like with the rooms, where we aren’t talking about 10 million thread counts. We just want the bed to be comfortable.”
Wood joined CVR earlier this year, and his food will work in much the same way he does – unassuming, rustic, straightforward, with plenty of personality.
Like the seared ahi Nicoise salad ($15) with farm fresh egg, Savannah green beans, marinated olives and a white balsamic treatment, or golden chanterelle mushroom risotto ($21) with butternut squash, pink lady apples and spicy arugula grown in CVR’s own gorgeous hilltop garden, just a quick golf-cart jaunt from the kitchen, down through the freshly planted vineyards.
Marino, late of Earthbound Farm, has signed on to manage the produce plot, which has delivered everything from purple peppers to bronze fennel to pink-and-white eggplant.
“Everything harvested from the garden goes to the kitchen,” Marino says. “I can’t grow enough stuff for the guy.”
As part of the ranch’s experiential-vacation mission, Marino says future plans call for him to teach guests about organic gardening. For now, he takes guests on a weekly tour, fielding horticulture questions and further connecting them to what they’ll eat during their stay.
Meanwhile Jamie Jarrard, late of Sierra Mar at Post Ranch, will provide potent pastry cheffing. With their help Wood will also steer two other CVR eateries, a golf club lunch spot and a terraced River Ranch cafe.
The Culinary Institute alum’s history here – Wood’s back from Carneros Inn in Napa after eight years at Bernardus – means he can tap top sources like a veteran.
“Tim is very well connected to the communities of Carmel Valley and the village,” Stamenov says.
Stamenov, who frequently traveled in Europe with Wood for Michelin-starred inspiration during their time together at Bernardus, also hits on something as crucial as the food stuff: Wood’s native steadiness, which will allow him to weather the unavoidable chaos of evolving such a sweeping project.
“Tim doesn’t stress out too much,” Stamenov says, “He’s pretty level.” Given that calm, the fresh food and his natural frankness, it’s no stretch to expect Wood’s work to make quite an impression.