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Recipe by Gavin Schmidt, executive chef, Blanca

I like eating. A lot. When I was in high school, I took a job as a dishwasher in a restaurant because it allowed me to eat all day. Growing up, both my parents worked, so my brother and I always cooked for each other, even if it was just heating up leftovers.

I was involved with the San Francisco food scene for seven or eight years and was ready for a change of scenery. Blanca brought me to San Diego. I’m ingredient-driven — very produce-driven — and I wanted to be in a place with great farms. And San Francisco is an established food scene. San Diego is still emerging, and it’s a bit more exciting here. We’re right on the Pacific and there are a lot of great things coming from local waters. I think when people embrace the local cuisine, that’s going to really open the food critics up to what this area has to offer.

I love working at Blanca. It goes well with my food. We have an herb garden where we grow food for the restaurant. And for cocktails, too. I do everything from scratch. We bake our own bread and cure our own meat. If you’re doing true farm-to-table cuisine, that’s how it works. Farms don’t grow pork chops. They grow pigs. When you’re using the whole pig, you are actually doing something and using something real. If you were cooking on the farm, you don’t just throw out the ugly parts. Because this is a pig you have raised. Farmers go to such a great length to bring flavor to their soil and to the animals that are nourished from it. I want my cooking to reflect that. If we keep eating only beef tenderloin and fois gras, there are going to be a lot of cow legs and feet in stockpiles.

More and more, there is a movement toward sustainability. I like this return to humble ingredients, to real cooking. I want to elevate people’s awareness of that. I work with farmers and have a great relationship with them built on mutual respect.

On my own, I do a lot of foraging. I pick things in the wild, whether it’s nasturtium flowers for salad or seaweed leaves from the ocean. I can pick it in the morning and it’s on a plate for dinner. I love fresh fruit, too. When I cook at home, it’s the same fundamentals. I handle food very simply. I roast meat or cook a whole chicken and some vegetables. Whatever is fresh and local.

[A couple of months ago] I made a gazpacho with shrimp. Gazpacho is great. You don’t even have to cook anything and you can capture the bright freshness of the food.

INGREDIENTS

Serves 4–6

  • 1 tablespoon good olive oil
  • 1 ounce slivered almonds
  • 2 sweet bell peppers or piquillo peppers, chopped
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • ½ jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 cucumber, chopped
  • 4 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 epazote leaf
  • ¼ cup sherry vinegar
  • ⅓ cup good olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

HOW TO DO IT

Heat one tablespoon olive oil in a small pan. Add slivered almonds and fry until golden. Remove from heat. Roughly chop all vegetables. Add  vegetables to blender and process for a few seconds. Add the sherry vinegar and the remaining olive oil and puree until mixed. Do not overprocess. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with roasted shrimp, shaved cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes.

NOTE: Epazote leaves can be found in Mexican grocery stores or online at gourmetsleuth.com

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