At the top of his game, Chef Judd Canepari shines at El Bizcocho

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Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

I have been following the buzz on El Bizcocho restaurant and its “molecular gastronomy” concept for some time now.  Since my curiosity just wouldn’t let up, I decided to check myself into The Rancho Bernardo Inn.

For starters, I must say that the hotel and its grounds are picture-perfect, resembling an Italian resort, complete with several water fountains (imported from Italy and Mexico), cypress and olive trees, fabulous spa, and 3 swimming pools.

As my husband and I were lead to our premium suite with a view of the golf course, we felt as if we were miles from San Diego, and couldn’t believe we had never visited before.

Executive Chef Judd Canepari (Courtesy photo)

Executive Chef Judd Canepari (Courtesy photo)

When we entered the El Bizcocho dining room, waiters dressed in black suits seemed eager to cater to our every whim.  We ordered a glass of champagne and decided to leave the menu up to Executive Chef/Chef de Cuisine Judd Canepari.

As the Food Editor of  Ranch and Coast Magazine, I met Canepari a few years ago when he was the executive chef of Rancho Valencia restaurant in Rancho Santa Fe.  I was extremely impressed with his high-energy spirit, unique cooking talents, strong devotion to his craft, class, style, and an Oscar winning smile.  When we met again to talk about El Bizcocho, his fun spirit was in tact, and he continues to be at the top of his game in the kitchen.

The menu at the El Bizcocho restaurant has gone through a delicious and educational transformation.  Once offering a tasting only menu, driven by heavy molecular gastronomy, Canepari received resounding dissatisfaction from the San Diego eater.  “Molecular gastronomy is present in our everyday cooking life,” he says.  “The science has been around for hundreds of years, and it was the marketing genius of Farran Andria that made us believe we were charting new territory. He was the first to bring it to the fine dining arena”.

Heirloom Tomato Salad (Photo by Maria Desiderata Montana)

Heirloom Tomato Salad (Photo by Maria Desiderata Montana)

Early in his career, Canepari had long been using Transglutaminase (food glue), and it appeared he was among one of the first chefs in San Diego to have liquid nitrogen and a thermal circulator in his kitchen.  At present, Canepari uses Calcium Gluconolactate in his cheese-making process and Xanthium and Guar gum (used in the making of ice cream for 20 years or more).  “We are making food by the hand and believe in a refined structured cuisine, with balance, texture and taste,” he explained.

I believe Canepari has the strongest molecular gastronomy kitchen in San Diego. Actively working on, and experimenting with new ideas textures and techniques, he has a close relationship with CP Kelco, the leader in hydrocolloid research. He does not wish to be defined by molecular gastronomy, but it is a tool that he will continue to use to challenge San Diego to move forward into the new food frontier.

“This is one of the strongest culinary teams I have ever worked with, and it is the strength of these young chefs that inspires me to be as creative as I can be,” says Canepari. “I believe it’s my responsibility to build the next generation of great chefs for San Diego.  Food is our imagination, taste is our eyes, smell is our memory and texture is our touch.”

The menu is collaboration by Canepari, Alaun Girmaud (executive sous chef) and William Geiger (sous chef).  Some of the ingredients are organic but Canepari wonders: “if you didn’t grow it yourself, then is it really organic?”

Chicken Liver Parfait

Chicken Liver Parfait (Photo by Maria Desiderata Montana)

When my ‘captain’ for the evening brought me the chicken liver parfait, I wasn’t sure if I would like it.  Served with peppered red wine jelly, icicle radish and spiced brioche, I must say that it was so delicious, I felt as though I was eating a luscious dessert.  The parfait was both silky and creamy and all the ingredients combined were a magical blend of flavors. Pair with Domaine De Monteils Sauternes, 2005, France.

Canepari uses sustainable Lamb from Elysian Fields Farms, Rabbit from Devils Gulch Ranch, and farm raised/sustainable seafood from the central coast.  Don’t miss the tender and slow cooked lamb loin shank with fried semolina, black olive sponge, and zucchini puree; pair with Layer Cake Shiraz, 2008, Australia.  Another original creation is the seared diver scallop with rabbit loin, smoked trout roe, compressed fennel and maple sugar. Somehow Canepari managed to make the rabbit loin look exactly like a scallop.  The only way I could tell the difference was by tasting it: truly amazing!   Pair with Angeline Pinot Noir, 2008, Sonoma.

Ravioli (Photo by Maria Desiderata Montana)

Fonduta Pyramid Ravioli (Photo by Maria Desiderata Montana)

Being of Italian decent himself, Canepari knew the Italian in me needed homemade pasta. When he delivered the fonduta pyramid raviolis with imported Italian Fontina cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Black truffle shavings, I was in heaven and urged him to add more Italian inspired dishes to the menu (he told me he also makes a great pasta sauce).

Canepari says he will never tire or give up on being the best chef he can be. “San Diego has talent in the culinary arena, they just have to wake up and see it,” he says.  “No crab stacks and deconstructed Caesar salads; just honest, made from the heart cuisine.”

If you want to experience the best of the best, visit the Rancho Bernardo Inn and dine at El Bizcocho today.

Maria Desiderata Montana is an award-winning food and wine journalist, editor, and published author based in San Diego. She gained an appreciation of European cuisine from her parents, who were born and raised in Calabria, Italy. Visit her website at www.sandiegofoodfinds.com.

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