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Bacara Resort & Spa in Santa Barbara, Calif., needed a new chef for The Bistro, one of its four restaurants. Executive Chef David Reardon and general manager Kathleen Cochran were looking for an executive chef worthy of cooking in the gourmet restaurant for high-end clientele. Anne Burrell and the Chef Wanted team brought in four candidates: Chefs Diana Hernandez, Earl Anthony Morris, Chris Turano and Jared Case. Two initial tests would narrow down the chefs to two finalists, who would each get to run the restaurant’s dinner service on separate nights. In the end, the decision for David and Kathleen would be a difficult one because both chefs had their share of ups and downs during dinner, but it came down to food and flavor.
The first test required the chefs to create a dish featuring Santa Barbara’s finest local foods from both land and sea. Chef Earl chose to cook with stinging nettles from the land and sea urchin from the sea, but unfortunately his combination with lobster and pineapple masked the flavors of the two local ingredients, so he was sent home. For the second challenge, the chefs had to create a breakfast dish and an entree, both using eggs. Chef Diana’s ostrich egg white frittata and her pork chop topped with a fried egg were both overcooked so she was sent home. It would be Chefs Chris and Jared who would make it to dinner service.
During Jared’s dinner service, two things complicated matters. First, his fresh pasta came out too thin and it easily overcooked. Second was cooking an off-menu dish for VIP guest Cat Cora. After getting backed up with the returned pasta dishes, Jared finally switched to dried pasta and eventually found time to cook the VIP dish. Whereas Jared had a great line of communication with his cooks, Chef Chris did not. During his service he kept trying to do everything himself instead of delegating tasks. At one point he even started peeling a cucumber and ended up slicing into his thumb, which required emergency medical attention. With some persistence from Anne, Chris finally made efforts to communicate with his staff and completed service. In the end, Chef David and Kathleen were most impressed with Chris’ flavors and he was awarded the new executive chef position at The Bistro, an opportunity which meant he’d finally have the chance to start a family with his wife, Mindy.
FN Dish caught up with Chef Chris to chat about his experience on the show and what he’s been doing since winning the executive chef position. Read his interview below.
During dinner service, you got into the weeds almost right away because you seemed to be trying to do too much yourself instead of delegating to the staff. What was the turning point that got you through service?
Chris Turano: It is impossible to properly train multiple cooks in just a few hours. I don’t know if there was a turning point; I think it was mainly just working hard and doing the best you can in a real tough situation.
At any point did you feel you wouldn’t get offered the job? How did you feel when Kathleen announced it was you?
CT: When Anne came in the kitchen and told me that I had to change my menu, the octopus to ridge back shrimp, the scallops to black cod and ostrich to lamb, I didn’t think I was going to be able to finish. That was the hardest part. I felt great when Kathleen announced that I was chosen.
What was your mentality going into the show?
CT: I kept on telling myself that the job was mine to lose. If I did what I knew I could do, I would come out on top. And I did that — tried not to overextend myself in the kitchen.
How was it working with Anne Burrell?
CT: Anne was tough to work with, but she was very fair. It was a great experience.
What has the experience of doing the show taught you?
CT: Being on Chef Wanted kind of validated that I can do just about anything and wind up better than before.
How are you settling into California life? What do you find most different from working in Santa Barbara vs. Chicago?
CT: California is crazy: People talk about how it is not that nice outside on some days, and it’s, like, 70 with a little overcast! In Chicago, that’s a great day! Workwise, once you get settled in a kitchen, they are the same, more or less, everywhere.
What was one of the first things you did at The Bistro? What kind of menu have you created?
CT: The menu is “Italian Riviera,” so it is Italian but trying to focus and highlight the great local produce and seafood.
Do you have a favorite or signature dish?
CT: We have a really nice halibut with fregola and a celery root salsa verde that is based off the halibut that I did for my dinner service.
What advice would you give to other chefs competing on Chef Wanted?
CT: Keep your head up, don’t try to be Superman, do what you know, keep your ego out of it.
Watch Chef Wanted on Thursdays at 10pm/9c and keep coming back to FN Dish for updates and behind-the-scenes content.