Interview: Chef Cory Bidwell Of Cayucos, California's The Grill At The Cass House

Cory Bidwell, 30, is executive chef of The Grill at the Cass House, a five-room boutique hotel in the beach town of Cayucos, California, one of the delights of the Central Coast. It is a seemingly unspoiled part of the world with beautiful sunsets, uncrowded beaches, and friendly people. Near here is where William Randolph Hearst built his famous castle, La Questa Encontada, "The Enchanted Hill."

Corey does it all, seemingly without strain, and gracefully. I talked to him and found him to be a modest man, who laughs a lot. He said that it's a blessing to work where he does. He never went to culinary school, and learned it all from executive chefs for whom he worked.

The Daily Meal: How did you get into cooking?
Chef Cory Bidwell:
I saw at a young age the importance of gathering with family and friends, and I noticed that food and drink was the center and soul of those gatherings. I wanted to be the reason people got together to enjoy good food. When I started working in a kitchen at the age of 14, I was drawn to the organized chaos, the hard work, and the reward of watching someone enjoy what was created.

What keeps you in cooking?
The customers. The atmosphere. The team we've created. The farmers. The challenge of execution.

Do you prefer a particular style of cooking?
I was trained in French and Italian cuisine. At the Grill, we've created an open kitchen that utilizes a stripped down style of cooking; a wood-fueled grill and oven that isn't as easy to control as a gas range in a closed kitchen. The wood grill and oven are more challenging for me right now, and I love that challenge. It keeps me going, keeps my mind excited to create. I like (for lack of a better term) "farm to table" cooking.

What kind of atmosphere do you try to create in the kitchen?
To start, I like to laugh. I try to create an enjoyable and fun environment which I believe produces the best results from my team. We work hard, hustle in the heat, but we also love what we do.

What do you look for when you hire other chefs to assist you in the kitchen?
Passion. Team mentality. Work ethic. Willingness to learn.

Have I missed anything that you feel is important that you would like to add?
I place a lot of value on the ingredients we use. We go through a lot of work on each of our dishes; sourcing from multiple farmers' markets during the week, building relationships with the farmers, creating from scratch, sourcing local artisans to make our plates/boards, proteins/breads/dairy, etc. It's our passion and it's represented on the plate.

What is your favorite spice? How do you use it?
Salt – season, cure, garnish – the versatility is what I love most about it. Also the simplicity. The way just a little salt can bring out the essence of an ingredient. Wars were fought over salt. It's the most important spice on the planet!