By Barbara DeMarco-Barrett
Before the early morning mist lifts from the eucalyptus and palm trees, Chef Jean-Pierre Dubray heads east to the local foothills on his weekly quest for the freshest produce for his guests. At his favorite farm on The Irvine Ranch,® located about a half hour inland from Pelican Hill,® the Resort’s Executive Chef hand selects red and golden beets topped with dark leafy greens, heady bunches of curly Swiss chard and bouquets of kale to bring back to his restaurants. All were picked just hours earlier.
“It’s exciting to be able to source the best local produce,” says Dubray, who oversees all three of the Resort’s restaurants. “Since I first started going out there three years ago, the vegetable selection has grown so big.”
As an advocate for farm-to-table cuisine, Dubray loves providing guests with locally sourced food. When he learned about Orange County Produce, the oldest active farming tenant on The Irvine Ranch,® he began visiting them every Thursday. Orange County’s microclimates, and the number of Irvine Ranch growing areas—some inland, some by the beach—make it possible to grow just about any vegetable Dubray desires.
“When Chef wants a particular vegetable, we’ll grow it to the age he wants,” says A.G. Kawamura, owner of Orange County Produce, which has been farming the area since 1957. “For instance, we’ve done this with very, very young green beans and squash blossoms.”
Because just about anything can be grown on The Ranch, the need to ship vegetables like asparagus up from South America in the winter has waned. This year for the first time, Dubray was able to buy asparagus from The Ranch.
“It’s so much better, tastier and healthier,” says Dubray. “The way The Ranch packages the asparagus, it will stay fresh for 48 hours. Otherwise, in the off season, asparagus was two weeks old by the time it arrived.”
This availability of fresh produce has a direct impact on the menus Dubray creates for his restaurants. The mainstay food items that guests love, such as chicken, beef and scallops, are always available, yet their preparation changes with the season.
“Take scallops, for instance,” says Dubray. “In winter months, we might do pur.ed squash with the scallops, but in spring, we might create a pur.e of fava beans or sweet peas.”
In-season produce also influences salad recipes.
“We had a fig salad,” he says, “but now beets— golden, red—are in season and so we have beet salads.”
And, of course, the avocado—so plentiful in Orange County—is available fresh 10 months a year. “We make guacamole from avocados grown 10 miles from the Resort,” says Chef. “Customers love it. And Swiss chard, kale and baby carrots— you see more recipes that include these in the spring. It’s a goal of ours to be as seasonal as possible.”
“And our pleasure,” says Kawamura, “is whatever Chef asks.”