For chef Erasmo Rodriguez, whose cooking style leans heavily on premium produce and high-quality meats, working in the San Joaquin Valley is like a dream come true.
Rodriguez recently was hired as the executive chef at Harris Ranch Restaurant in Coalinga.
He will oversee a nearly 100-member kitchen staff, including an executive sous chef and four sous chefs. The restaurant, a Valley landmark, is one of the busiest in the state, churning out 1,500 entrees a day.
But this is far from fast food.
Rodriguez, who cut his culinary teeth at some of the most exclusive resorts in the state, maintains the tradition of Harris Ranch's cooking-from-scratch philosophy. During a recent tour, he proudly showed off the restaurant's in-house bakery, butcher shop and produce storage locker.
"It is amazing what we have access to," Rodriguez said. "We can handpick the freshest and finest ingredients whether it's tomatoes, stone fruit or citrus. As a chef, this is what you dream of."
What also excites Rodriguez is that much of the produce he prepares is grown by the diversified farming company.
"Harris Ranch has been a pioneer in the farm-to-table movement," he says. "They have been doing it for more than 30 years."
Although he has only been on the job for two months, Rodriguez already is putting his spin on Harris Ranch's signature product: beef.
A lover of spices, Rodriguez added a dash of Middle Eastern and Indian flavors to a dish of grilled tenderloin tips tossed with fettuccine and mushroom cream sauce with caramelized fennel and roasted butternut squash.
He plans to borrow those flavors, and some South American spices, for an upcoming menu for Mother's Day.
Rodriguez has been cooking for more than 30 years and has worked at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel and Resort in La Quinta, Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego and most recently the Laguna Cliffs Marriot Resort and Spa in Dana Point.
He counts his Mexican grandmother as one of his biggest cooking influences. Rodriguez fondly recalls her albondigas soup, a meatball style stew, carne asada and cochinita pibil, a slow roasted pork dish from the Yucatan Peninsula made with Mayan spices and wrapped in banana leaves.
Rodriguez says his Mexican heritage definitely will play into his cooking. He plans to add sliced beef tongue to the menu soon. The tongue will be paired with polenta cake and tomatillo-based fresh green salsa.
As his favorite meal, Rodriguez's tastes are surprisingly simple.
"I love foie gras," he says. "But I am perfectly content with tacos."
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6327, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FresnoBeeBob on Twitter.