Interview: Chef Cal Stamenov Of Carmel Valley, California's Lucia

Chef Cal Stamenov is an award winning chef at Lucia in Carmel Valley, California, at Bernardus Lodge & Spa. He was trained by Alain Ducasse and Pierre Gagnaire in France and Monaco. He also cooked under Jean-Louis Palladin in Washington, DC.

A farmer at heart, Stamenov forages his own backyard – which includes two acres of organic fruits and vegetables, three bee boxes with domestic and wild Italian honey bees, 150+ fruit trees and a cache of Plymouth, Barred Rock, Rhode Island, Speckled Sussex and Ameraucana chickens whose eggs always make a menu appearance. The resort's two-acre organic garden, flush with esoteric herbs and seasonal vegetables, is an added playground for crafting his artisanal creations. Years of friendships with local fishermen, growers, and foragers have proven invaluable to both Stamenov and guests of the lodge with daily highlights in the form of fisherman dropping off a catch of Monterey Bay spot prawns or a local forager unexpectedly arriving at the kitchen door with a basket of Big Sur's coveted chanterelle mushrooms. Stamenov embraces the foods he loves most – garden-fresh vegetables and herbs, wood fired meats, hand-crafted olive oils and coaxing out the naturally reduced flavors and essence of each dish.

The Daily Meal: How did you get into cooking?
Chef Cal Stamenov: I grew up in a small town in SFO Bay Area that was agricultural. My parents loved to cook and I was always with them in the kitchen especially my father who is of European decent and had an eye for fresh, fork-to-table dining before it became a popular and overused culinary term.

Do you have a specialty dish?
As with all chefs, my cuisine swings with the seasons. I have passion for the true essence of ingredients and try not to sway too far from the star of the plate. One of my specialties that remains on the menu is the Portobello Mushroom soup, this is incredibly rich and fragrant. Some bio background:

Do you prefer a particular style of cooking?
I like grilling and roasting, drilling down the essence of the dish, slow-rendered sauces; a true love for things like quail, cassoulet, seasonal mushroom and seafood dishes that are coaxed to perfection.

What kind of atmosphere do you create in the kitchen?
I like a calm and concentrated atmosphere. We have a chef's table with all kinds of signatures on the wall (Julia Child, Leonardo DiCaprio), and guests always comment on how reserved the kitchen is. It's relatively quiet and the team works like a fine Swiss watch.

What do you look for when you hire other chefs to assist you in the kitchen?
Longevity in their past jobs, a simple passion of cooking and chefs that have worked in restaurants similar to my style with a focus on fresh, organic, local.

What do you plan for your future?
To continue to expand a healthy yet satisfying dining experience and further develop our onsite organic gardens and fruit trees. We just launched an apiculture program with three hives and 240,000 honeybees; we'll be offer a summer and fall lineup of specialty menu items and Lucia Bar cocktails using fresh, raw, organic honey.