California Made, French Inspired: New Bacara Chef Bring Parisian Flair to the Kitchen

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 9/3/15


Bacara Executive Chef Vincent Lesage
When Chef Vincent Lesage takes the spotlight at this year’s Taste of the Town – in a pair of events that includes a deluxe VIP dinner and a gourmet tasting – it’ll double as his public debut.
 
“I am honored by this,” says the French native, who took the helm as the new Executive Chef at Bacara Resort & Spa just four months ago.  “And I’m very excited to be part of this major culinary event for the first time.”
 
As Lead Chef for the 34th annual Taste of the Town, a landmark culinary fete that draws more than 1000 foodies and benefits the Arthritis Foundation of Greater L.A. and the Central Coast, Chef Lesage will be wearing multiple hats next week.  On Friday, September 11th, he’ll wow palates at the Connoisseurs’ Circle event, a gala dinner affair for sponsors and their guests at Bacara.  The menu, which the chef calls “very French oriented,” features a starter of roasted beets, pickled Cavaillon melons and a goat cheese cream and a main course of pan-seared filet of beef, encrusted in foie gras and grape crust, and doled out with sautéed wild mushrooms and asparagus.
 
Winemaker Fred Brand and his son Nik
at the 2014 Taste of the Town
“We’re using many local ingredients,” says Chef Lesage, who’ll receive a special award that night.
 
“While this will be our 6th annual Connoisseurs’ Circle, it is the event’s inaugural year at Bacara Resort & Spa,” says Arthritis Foundation Executive Director Asher Garfinkel, who adds that only a few seats to this VIP affair remain.  “We agreed that honoring Chef Lesage and featuring his talent makes perfect sense, given our simultaneous new arrival at Bacara.”

The evening’s honored winemaker will be Fred Brander, of Los Olivos’ Brander Vineyard, who’ll match a wine with each course.

On Sunday, September 13th, Chef Lesage will be hosting a tasting station and mingling with guests at the signature Taste of the Town event, an open-air extravaganza on the Riviera foothills that features dozens of chefs, caterers and winemakers.  The event, which sells out each year, takes place from Noon to 3pm.  Tickets are $125.

Though a new transplant to Santa Barbara, Chef Lesage is not new to fine food.  He was born and raised in Paris, and although he didn’t grow up in a gastronomic household – his father worked at a supermarket and his mother was a teacher – he does remember cooking often with his grandmother.  “I knew from a very young age what I wanted to do."
 
As a teenager, Mr. Lesage headed south and spent two intensive years at Institut Paul Bocuse, a prominent culinary school in Lyon, “the world’s capital of gastronomy,” he says.  He’d go on to cut his teeth at several renowned restaurants, like Restaurant Bras, in southern France, and Restaurant Astrance, in Paris.  Both are prestigious three-star Michelin eateries.  Chef Lesage worked at The Ritz Paris, too.
 
The September 13th Taste of the Town event will take place at Santa Barbara's Riviera Park
“So my background is very traditional,” he asserts.  “Where I’m from, you sit down with your family every time when you have a meal.  You don’t always find that in America.”  But since his move to the U.S. seven years ago, Mr. Lesage admits that this country’s epicurean interests appear to be shifting.  “People are more and more into restaurants as an experience – wanting to make sure the way they are treated is just as important as the wine and the food,” he says.  “And people are more into organic and into local now, and that is great to see.”
 
Chef Lesage was hired by Starwood Hotels as Executive Sous Chef for the AAA 5-Diamond St. Regis Monarch Beach in 2008, where he managed a kitchen staff of more than 60.  He went on to serve as Executive Chef of the deluxe Balboa Bay Resort in Newport Beach, where he launched two waterfront restaurants, Waterline and A&O Kitchen Bar.  Balboa Bay Resort is managed by Pacific Hospitality Group, which also operates Bacara.
 
Chef Lesage arrives at Bacara at a pivotal time in the culinary history of the seaside Forbes 4-Star resort.  Miro, its flagship restaurant, is closing and undergoing a $3.5 million renovation to make way for a new restaurant in the spring of 2016.  The concept remains a secret, but “the focus will be on raw materials, on earth and water,” reveals the chef.  Over the next year, the property’s five other eateries will be revamped, too, which suits Mr. Lesage just fine.  “I like variety,” he says.  “The more that’s changing, the better.”
 
It’s an attitude that extends into the kitchen.
 
“I love our proximity to ingredients – we’re within three miles to almost everything – and we have lots of great seafood,” says Chef Lesage.  “But more importantly, we have to be ready to do everything.  At Bacara, we could be cooking French today, and tomorrow it could be Chinese.  There’s huge diversity.  And we have to be driven and we have to be extremely good in everything we do.
 
That push for perfection seems natural in Mr. Lesage, though he’s quick to recognize the critical role social media plays today in keeping the bar high.
 
The Bistro at Bacara Resort
“We’re put under the gun every day,” he says.  “Before, people would come to visit your restaurant three or four times.  Now the experience can be just one meal, and boom – they’re taking a picture, putting a hash-tag on it, putting it on social media and there you are!  It’s putting more and more pressure on chefs to deliver their best every day.”
 
This is where Chef Lesage’s youth – he’s only 30 – could be a real asset for Bacara, where his forward-looking ingenuity is already taking shape.  He’s partnered with Fairview Gardens to exchange all his kitchen scraps for homegrown fruits and vegetables.  “They realized their soils were in need of a revamp,” says the chef, “so instead of buying compost, we provide them with the ingredients to create their own.”
 
Richard Yates and Tina Takaya of Santa Barbara's popular
Opal Restaurant are the Honorary Chairs of the 2015 Taste of the Town
The Chef is also sourcing produce from one of Bacara’s nine fountains, which have been converted into gardens to conserve water; the one designed by Something Good Organics grows heirloom eggplant, basil, romaine lettuce and more.
 
Chef Vincent Lesage lives in Goleta with his wife, Ashley, and their two-year-old daughter, Olivia.  Thus far, their favorite family activities involve the great outdoors.  “We love doing nature-oriented things, like taking the dog, going to the beach and getting into the water to play,” he says.  “The climate here is pretty amazing.”
 
For more information on Bacara, go to www.BacaraResort.com.  For information and tickets to the 34th annual Taste of the Town, visit www.TasteoftheTownSantaBarbara.org.  For tickets to the Friday night VIP dinner at Bacara, contact the Arthritis Foundation office directly at 805.563.4685.
 
 
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