The Interview: Chef Billy Deaver

We chat with the head chef at bluEmber in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

Billy Deaver

Chef Billy Deaver recently signed on as executive chef for all the restaurants at Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa in Rancho Mirage, Calif.: R Bar, Splash Grill, Palms Café, and their flagship restaurant, bluEmber.

The resort is currently undergoing a $5 million renovation, and Deaver’s farm-to-table approach fits right in with their overall philosophy. One of the real standouts on the menu at the new R Bar is the "Billy’s Burger Bar" section, which features 10 different sliders in varieties including the "All American" with American cheese, caramelized onions, sweet pickles, local tomatoes, and R sauce; the "Bacon Lover" with smoked chopped bacon, bacon cheese, and roasted garlic bacon aioli; and the "Crab Cake" with Maryland-style crabcake, avocado purée, shaved red onion, and Old Bay sauce.

Over at bluEmber, Deaver serves California New American cuisine with a high-end approach, with ingredients sourced from local farmers as well as the on-site herb garden. Menu items include Pacific oysters with gin mignonette, preserved onion, and crispy onion; pan-seared striped bass with heirloom carrots, dinosaur kale, roasted fennel, and carrot cashew pesto; shortrib with creamy white Cheddar grits, balsamic roasted shallots, and grilled green garlic; and truffle tots with shaved Parmesan on the side.

We spoke with Deaver about his experiences in the restaurant industry.

What was your first restaurant industry job?
My first restaurant job was as a dishwasher at a neighborhood Italian restaurant and pizza shop. As a kid, I would try and guess as the sauté pans came to the dish pit, if it was marinara, Bolognese, marsala, picatta. Not having the skills of a cook or a developed palate it created the drive to want to be the "guy on the line." That started the fire that stays with me daily in the kitchen.

When you first walk into a restaurant, what do you look for as signs that it’s well-run, will be a good experience, etc.?
I look for the quality of the greeting at the door, smells of the room, details of the table set, smiles on the team’s face. If they are moving like a well-orchestrated team, you know they are on their game!

Is there anything you absolutely hate cooking?
Hate is a strong word. I enjoy all food.

If one chef from history could prepare one dish for you, what would it be?
I would choose my opah, who was a German immigrant. On our farm growing up they raised and butchered pigs, and his ham was truly amazing. He cured and smoked it in our smoke house that they built. By the time I came around he had passed, but my grandfather and uncles kept the tradition going.

What do you consider to be your biggest success as a chef?
My biggest successes have been earning my four diamonds from AAA Mobil and leading my first kitchen in my mid-20s.

What do you consider to be your biggest failure as a chef?
Not traveling through Europe and Asia. I feel that to truly understand a region of food you really need to spend time seeing where it came from, how the locals grow it, eat it, why is it so special to them. That’s how you can understand how to create your own memories in your restaurant, for your guests.

What is the most transcendental dining experience you’ve ever had?
A few years back I was in Manhattan doing some work with a good friend and I took him to Mario Batali’s Bar Jamón. It was a small store front that maybe had 30 seats. The vibe was bustling and it was clearly all about the food, drinks, and friends. There were only about six bar stools and two community tables in the entire place and only two bartenders/prep cooks. They assembled the dishes and poured the drinks with quickness. We ate through most of the menu as it is tapas-style, with Manteca, pickled sardines, head cheese, Ibérico ham.

Are there any foods you will never eat?
I’d have to say I’m not really elated about blood sausage.

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Is there a story that, in your opinion, sums up how interesting the restaurant industry can be?
I met my wife in a restaurant up in Tahoe, Calif. She ran the front of the house and I was the chef. A few trips back and forth across the USA, up and down California, two beautiful kids, and 11 years later, we’re still having fun and always enjoy talking about our passion, the restaurant!