July 21, 2015 – After a six-month renovation that has moved through the property like a summer wind, Carmel Valley Ranch is ready to open its new, expanded restaurant this Friday by inviting everyone into the kitchen. Understanding that the restaurant is the hub of the Ranch, and the kitchen is the heart of the home, Chef Tim Wood and his staff have replaced the legendary “Lodge” restaurant with Valley Kitchen—a place where chefs can experiment, guests can gather, and everyone can commune on valley cuisine crafted from the bounty of the area.
“Chef Wood takes his inspiration from the people around him—guests, local vendors, and a diverse staff, who feel like family as they bring to him the flavors and foods of their cultures,” says Director of Restaurant Operations Taft Hart. “He incorporates everything from the valley and coastal communities—the farms, the fish, the produce and local products, plus the Ranch’s own honey, lavender, and organic garden.”
Hart, who served as director of operations for an independent restaurant group for 15 years in New York, came to Carmel for the relaunch of the restaurant at Carmel Valley Ranch. After overseeing some eight restaurants, each with its own concept, he says he’s looking forward to putting that kind of energy and experience into providing world-class hospitality at Valley Kitchen, which will expand from 105 seats to 223.
“When I hear ‘Valley Kitchen’ it instills a sense of genuine care and comfort,” says Hart. “It’s like hanging out at home, where people partake of things together, cooking what they like, and feeling fed and nourished, as they express love through food. This is what the valley brings to us and what we will bring to local and out-of-town guests.”
In keeping with the extensive renovations throughout Carmel Valley Ranch, the restaurant is the result of an expansive remodel. When returning guests walk in through the long hallway, says Hart, they won’t recognize it. The new bar boasts a hanging shelf structure bearing honey pots and honeycomb. The expanded space beyond the roaring fireplace houses a side dining room, and a back dining room, which opens to the vineyard. The new vintner room serves as a large banquet space, with terrace seating, as well. The reimagined restaurant, designed by Rodrigo Vargas Design, SB Architects and The Paul Davis Partnership.
“Our Resort Beverage Manger, Dave Erickson’s wine list, the majority of which are local,” says Hart, “now includes our just-released Swing Rosé, a name reflective of all the swings hanging from oak trees across our property. This fall, we will release our Swing Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Reserve Pinot Noir which, like our Rosé, is made100% from grapes on property, in collaboration with Vintner Peter Figge, a local artisan with whom we collaborate.”
Chef Wood’s dinner menu is seasonal and interactive, which suggests a shared concept in dining. Traditionally, when we dine, says Hart, we expect an appetizer, followed, perhaps, by a salad, and entrée, and dessert. The ordering is pretty straightforward. At Valley Kitchen, plates are designed for sharing, in an atmosphere of casual conversation, where guests try four appetizers to get a taste of Valley Kitchen, enjoying the experience together.
The goal of Valley Kitchen is to be the community kitchen of the Carmel Valley, inspired the talented artisans and fresh products of the area. Chef Wood’s new dinner menu will be divided into three sections – Let’s Taste (nibbles), Let’s Share (commune) and Let’s Eat (full portions) – to encourage a social dining experience where guests will share dishes and dine as though they were in Chef Wood’s home kitchen. The menu will be evolve throughout the year, and will allow guests to enjoy variety of different ingredients from local purveyors, as well as international cuisines inspired by the Valley Kitchen’s diverse culinary team.
Under the “Let’s Taste” portion of the menu, diners can find “Chef’s Daily Crouton,” a Root Cellar Riette with Cornichon. Under “Let’s Share,” diners may partake of the “Poke of the Week,” a Jalapeno & Citrus Ponzu with Wakeme Seaweed Salad and Avocado; or “Fried Green Tomatoes,” a Valley Green Tomato with Corn Chutney and Spicy Tomato Jam. For those seeking a little more substance, the “Let’s Eat” section offers “Fisherman Jerry’s Line-Caught California Sea Bass,” with Whipped Potatoes and Swank Farms Heirloom Tomatoes; or “Mary’s Free-Range Chicken Breast from Pitman Family Farm,” with Jimmy’s Cracked Corn Polenta, and Sweet Onion Madeira Jus.
“Our goal,” says Hart, “is to give people what they want in a way they don’t expect it. We know everyone’s coming in for food and beverage, which is what they expect, but we’re going to do something different with it. Because of all that cooks in our kitchen, we don’t want to pinpoint the restaurant as a steak house or Italian trattoria; everything is sourced from the valley region, and there is a familiar face and a story behind every item on the menu.”
Chef Wood works hard on sourcing fresh, sustainable food, and developing relationships with his vendors. He brings in ceviche from David Seefeldt in Big Sur, fresh, line-caught fish from Jerry Wintle, and sea salt from Bob Kirkland’s Monterey Bay Salt Company. On property, he collects fresh honey from the Ranch’s own beekeeper and lavender expert John Russo, and picks fresh produce with organic gardener Mark Marino.
“The best thing about working in the Central Coast area,” says Chef Wood, “is the ability to be so closely connected to local products and the people behind them. When you know where your food is from and understand the care that the purveyors grant it, it is easy to extend your hand in friendship and consider them part of your family.”
In addition to Valley Kitchen, Carmel Valley Ranch has added 30 new guest rooms, a new swimming pool, and a host of additional activities. Valley Kitchen is slated to have a soft opening July 23, and a public opening July 24.
“You don’t have to be a golfer to come here,” says Hart, “but it helps to be a kid at heart. It’s a whole new Ranch.” Prices are still to be set, but view the new menu below.