Chef John Cox

by Michele Pesula Kuegler | September 17th, 2012 | Chef Interviews

After a two-article stay in the state of Texas, we now move west to California.  It is another large state with many great destinations for dining and more, but choices must be made, so we continue our culinary journey in Monterey.  With breath-taking views of the Pacific, Sierra Mar at the Post Ranch Inn provides an experience that will please all five of your senses.

Executive Chef John Cox utilizes local produce, including items grown in the inn’s garden and foraged on the property.  This restaurant serves lunch and dinner daily to both inn and outside guests.  Additionally, breakfast is prepared daily for inn guests.  We were able to speak with Chef Cox to learn more about his culinary creations.

TT: What local produce items are being used in your dishes currently?

CC: Right now we have an abundance of local produce: heirloom apples, squash, squash blossoms, yellow wax beans, broccoli, fava beans, garbanzo beans, red shiso, lemon verbena, anise hyssop, radishes, figs, a number of foraged seaweeds, etc.

TT: What ingredients are you able to forage on your property?

CC: We are currently foraging wild radish flowers, mustard flowers, dandelion roots, oak wood for roasting octopus, nasturtium seeds, flowers and greens, wild arugula, dried grasses “hay,” wild fennel, bay leaves, pink pepper, and redwood strawberries.

TT: Looking at your sample menu, you seem to incorporate a good amount of local produce. How often do you change your menu?

CC: We evolve our dinner menu every night, meaning that approximately half of the items will change on any given evening. The lunch menu changes monthly to reflect the best local products.

TT: What is your favorite dish that includes local produce?

CC: Right now I am really loving our pheasant dish. We marinate pheasant breasts with buttermilk scented with young bay laurel leaves. I make a sauce out of pink pearl apple juice and roast the heirloom apples from our garden with Gravenstein cider gastrique. The dish is served with a fondue made out of an aged, honey-lacquered goat cheese from Sweet Water Farm just up the road and wild arugula from the property.

TT: Do you work with any farms in particular?

CC: Our most valuable resource is our own kitchen garden, where we grow a variety of heirloom herbs and vegetables. There are a few small “farms” in Big Sur that drop off heirloom peppers, apples, and other ingredients. Apple Pie Ranch is a cooperative of small farms a few miles away that provides us with some interesting produce and chicken eggs. We also pick up a lot of produce at farmers markets in Monterey. Borba Farm, Privadelli, and Hamada are farms that we buy from every week.

TT: What makes your menu/restaurant unique?

CC: The menu concept at Sierra Mar is unconventional fine dining. We source the finest ingredients from around the world, but the heart and soul of our menu can be found in the locally sourced ingredients that truly reflect the Big Sur coast. When guests dine at Sierra Mar, I want them to experience Big Sur — of course the restaurant has an unparalled view of the coast and mountains, but I also want people to taste the incredible ingredients that grow all around us. Some items are rare, like the blades of giant kelp coated in herring eggs, which are almost exclusively exported to Japan; others, like wild fennel, are so prolific they blend into the landscape and are largely forgotten. A meal at Sierra Mar is an experience that can only take place in Big Sur. It is my culinary interpretation of the dramatic landscape and bold flavors of the coastal range and local beaches.

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