Alfonso Ramirez learned in baby steps in his childhood home.
Eat. Walk. Cook …
The executive chef at Pinot Provence, Costa Mesa, says that his chef-father is his culinary hero and was the one responsible for his early training.
His father was the accomplished executive chef at the Watergate Hotel in Washington D.C., where the late, fearless French chef Jean-Louis Palladin reined over the Jean-Louis restaurant. Chefs, foodies, and restaurateurs from all over made pilgrimages to the Watergate to sample Jean-Louis Palladin’s cuisine. And Alfonso’s chef-dad must have soaked it up. The talent. The taste.
Due to his father’s influence, Ramirez says that he feels like he has cooked French cuisine all his life. He brings to Pinot Provence a passion for French provincial cooking, a style that he calls “rustic French.”
With a fondness for his food, I asked if he would come to my home and shoot a culinary video with me. Watch the short video we shot, and get an up-close look at how he seasons and sears the fish and prepares the salad.
Behind the scenes: It was clear that due to time constraints, Canard Cassoulet with Duck Confit was off the table. So we settled on a very flavorful and easy-to-prepare salad that showcases seasoned-and- seared albacore atop a colorful mélange of Bibb lettuce, radishes, tart apples and avocado. The mixture is draped in a shear glaze of ginger-honey vinaigrette.
Best Gizmo: A Sugimoto 10-inch chef’s knife that has a carbon steel interior and has a stainless steel exterior to prevent discoloration. He appreciates the thinness of the knife and says it has great balance in his hand.
Fave Veg: Sunchokes are one of his most loved vegetables. Also known as Jerusalem artichokes, these plump knobby roots have a nutty taste and are subtly sweet, something like a blend of jicama and potato. They look something like fresh ginger.
The Competition: His favorite restaurant (other than Pinot Provence) is Taco Maria in Costa Mesa at the OC Mix. He loves the smoked potatoes and chorizo with shiitake mushrooms; it’s topped with a 62-degree egg.
Pinot Provence’s Albacore Salad
Yield: 1 serving with enough dressing for 8 servings
1 tablespoon chopped fresh peeled ginger
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1/4 cup Champagne vinegar
1/4 cup honey
1 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup yuzu juice, see cook’s notes
1/2 cup oil blend (90 percent grapeseed oil and 10 percent olive oil)
3 ounces sushi-grade albacore tuna
Coarse salt (such as fleur de sel), to taste
About 1/8 teaspoon sesame seeds (black sesame seeds preferred)
About 1/8 teaspoon ground Espelette pepper, see cook’s notes
1 to 2 tablespoons oil blend (90 percent grapeseed oil and 10 percent olive oil)
4 or 5 leaves of Boston (Bibb) lettuce, smaller interior leaves preferred
1 French Breakfast radish (or radish of choice), trimmed, thinly sliced or cut in narrow strips
6 heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 Granny Smith apple, cut into 1/8-inch wide strips
1/2 ripe avocado, peeled, diced
Garnish: sliced fresh chives
Cook’s notes: Yuzu juice is sold in bottles at Japanese markets and online. Yuzu is a Japanese citrus fruit that is prized for its perfume-rich juice. Ground Espelette pepper (piment d’Espelette in French) is made using dried chilies grown in Espelette, a town in the Southwest region of France, close to the Spanish border. It is often sold at Surfas Culinary District in Costa Mesa, Savory Spice Shop in Corona del Mar and Costa Mesa, or online at amazon.com.
1. Prepare vinaigrette: Place all vinaigrette ingredients except oil in blender. Blend on medium-high speed until pureed. Add oil in a thin stream. (Can be prepared ahead and refrigerated; whisk to combine before using.)
2. Season fish with salt. Spread sesame seeds and Espelette on plate; roll fish in it to coat on all sides. Heat oil in a medium-sized nonstick skillet using medium-high heat. When very hot but not smoking, add albacore. Sear well on all sides, about 1 to 2 minutes per side for rare interior, using tongs to turn. Allow to cool in refrigerator for easier slicing.
3. In a bowl, combine lettuce, radish, tomatoes, apple and avocado. Add enough dressing to lightly coat; gently toss. Arrange lettuce on plate. Top with salad. Cut albacore crosswise into thin slices. Place slices on top of salad, slightly overlapping. Drizzle a little dressing on top of fish and season lightly with salt. Top with chives and serve. Leftover dressing can be refrigerated (well-sealed) up to one week.
Source: Alfonso Ramirez, executive chef, Pinot Provence, Costa Mesa
Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s …
Mustard greens are one of the most nutrient dense plants on the planet! I love the way adding a smidgen of hot Italian sausage to this dish tames the greens.
It’s quick and easy to prepare.
I like to serve it atop cooked farro or brown rice.
Mustard Greens with Hot Sausage and Farro
Yield: 6 servings
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
6 ounces hot Italian sausage
1/2 large yellow onion, diced
1 pound mustard greens, washed, drained, cut crosswise into 3- to 4-inch wide pieces
2 tablespoons water or dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
For serving: 2 cups cooked farro or brown rice tossed with 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper
1. In a large, deep nonstick skillet heat olive oil on medium heat. Break sausage in clumps (about the size of very large grape) and add to skillet in a single layer. Cook, turning once, until nicely browned and crisp. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion softens, about 2 minutes.
2. Add mustard greens. Use a spatula to push the greens down as they heat. Add 2 tablespoons water or wine; cover. Cook 3 or 4 minutes, or until greens are wilted. Uncover and turn heat to high. Cook until moisture evaporates, about 4 minutes. Add salt and pepper; toss. Serve over cooked farro or brown rice.