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Making it special with strawberries

May/June 2010 California Country magazine

Chef Alex Araizaga in the Santa Maria Valley has strawberries on the menu.




Strawberries are on the menu year-round at the Historic Santa Maria Inn, where Alex Araizaga is executive chef. “The fields are within five or 10 minutes of the hotel,” he says. “You can’t get them fresher than that.”

As a chef, Alex Araizaga is right where he wants to be: surrounded by agriculture.

“Oh yeah, we’ve got farms all around us,” said the executive chef of the Historic Santa Maria Inn, a Central Coast landmark since 1917. “We’re right in the middle of all the stuff I use in my cooking. We get it fresh every day. If we forget anything, I make a call and in a half-hour, I have it.”

The list of farm-fresh items Araizaga serves at the inn’s fine-dining restaurant is extensive: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kale; all kinds of lettuces; root vegetables such as carrots, beets and turnips; several varieties of squash and squash blossoms; and herbs including cilantro, fennel and parsley.

The chef points out, however, that the plump, juicy strawberries that thrive year-round in the Santa Maria Valley are a menu mainstay. And he laughs when he considers the potential impact of their absence from his elaborate fruit displays and other signature items.

“A day without strawberries? I’d get complaints!” Araizaga said.

But nobody’s complaining. Instead, the inn’s Garden Room Restaurant receives frequent and high praise, including being named “Most Romantic Restaurant” and “Best Sunday Brunch” by the local newspapers.

“People come to us on special occasions,” Araizaga said. “They love our chocolate strawberries, our strawberry shortcake. We also pair strawberries with champagne and white wine. And salmon goes really well with strawberries. For us strawberries are year-round. It’s always something with strawberries.”

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