Italian Inspired: Santa Barbara's Four Seasons Resort Announces New Chef and New Menus


by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo 
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 12/15/16

"That view – it reminds me of home,” says Marco Fossati, the new executive chef at the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara.  He’s sitting inside the Montecito hotel’s Bella Vista dining room, gazing out at Butterfly Beach, as the afternoon sun bounces off the water.  A lot like the Italian Riviera.

Chef Marco Fossati in the kitchen
Chef Fossati’s childhood culinary influences, in fact, stretch back to the shores of Italy’s Liguria region – home to Portofino, the Cinque Terre and Genoa – where “I was always next to my grandma in the kitchen,” he recalls.  He still uses a tomato sauce recipe she taught him.  As a teen, summers were spent working at local restaurants, “doing everything from cooking to cleaning.”

The gastronomic path he’s followed ever since has been as diverse as it’s been impressive.  He moved to Milan in the mid-1980s, where he worked alongside another up-and-coming chef, Alessandro Cartumini.  The fellow Italian gourmand preceded Mr. Fossati at the Biltmore – he spent seven years in Santa Barbara’s flourishing food scene – and is now Food & Beverage Director at Four Seasons’ deluxe resort on the Big Island of Hawaii.

In London, Chef Fossati cooked for royalty.  In Paris, he was chef at the first Italian restaurant to ever earn a Michelin star.  And in Egypt, he catered to a well-heeled international clientele.  Most recently, he helmed the restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel Silicon Valley in Palo Alto.

Santa Barbara became home for the Fossati family – Chef Marco, his wife and their 2-1/2 year old daughter – this past May.  His influence on the Biltmore kitchen – and the four restaurants it feeds – has been evident ever since.

“My push is to make changes,” he says, in a distinctly rich Italian accent.  “If we stay comfortable, there can be problems.”

The marinara sauce Chef Fossati learned from Grandma makes a great bread dipper
To that end, his push for change is ongoing, driven as much by the seasons as Chef Fossati’s own imagination.  “If I get an idea, I’ll put it on the menu right away as a daily special,” he says.  If feedback from both his staff and clientele is positive, the item may well become a regular selection.  “The menu builds itself and is open to evolution at all time,” he says, adding that guests can expect to see three to five items rotated on and off the menu each month.  That’s how Bella Vista diners recently found a new offering –a handmade tagliatelle pasta tossed with a charcuterie-inspired sauce of salami, coppa and bresaola, served with a poached egg and pecorino cheese.  Fifteen orders sold on its introductory night, making it a menu item the next day.  And when diners raved about a bass “crudo” special – a locally sourced tartare topped with a salad of fennel and blood orange and served with a savory cream of russet potato, kefir and lemongrass – it was printed on the appetizer menu soon after.

Chef Fossati finishing off his Ravioli del Plin
Bella Vista, the hotel’s al fresco waterfront restaurant, remains a major focus for Chef Fossati, who’s planning a more substantial overhaul after the holiday season.  But he’s already taken several changes for a test drive, even during the property’s landmark brunch.  Like a build-your-own breakfast bowl, avocado toast (45 sold in the first two days) and a revamped Eggs Benedict.  “When hotels have it out, it’s a disgrace – the egg gets old and dry and the bread gets soggy,” he says.  Instead, he’s fashioned several Eggs Benedict preparations served to order directly from the kitchen.

Local fish, salads and paninis feature prominently on the lunch menu now.  And dinner features California- and Italy-inspired pastas and pizzas, as well as several meat, poultry and seafood preparations.  A new favorite is “Ravioli del Plin.”  Plush pasta pockets are stuffed with certified black Angus short rib that’s cooked for 17 hours in its own juices, ground, then seasoned with marjoram and salt; its served with spinach, sage, brown butter and aged pecorino cheese.

Ravioli del Plin
Charcuterie features more prominently now, driven by the fact that Bella Vista is one of only 12 restaurants in California – and the only one in Santa Barbara – licensed to cure its own meats.  And that slow-cooked, naturally sweet, naturally thick childhood marinara sauce – the one a young Marco learned from Grandma – is showing up in everything from pasta and cioppino specials to roasted bread dippers.

In the Ty Lounge, a cocktail haven just off the resort’s lobby, Chef Fossati is aiming to attract the millennial crowd with a focus on tapas-style plates meant for sharing.  Charcuterie features prominently here, too, and menu items – like empanadas de carne and smaller-portion paellas – showcase a Spanish and Moroccan slant.  The all-new Mussel Madness menu is offered Tuesdays and Wednesdays and offers six preparations, each served in cast iron bowls and with grilled country bread.  In The Belgium, for example, mussels are steamed in Belgian ale, Dijon mustard, shallots and herbs.  The menu will end when mussel season ends, around March or April.

At the Coral Casino, Tydes Restaurant and the Coral Café & Bar are open exclusively to members and overnight guests of the resort.  Chef Fossati is focusing on fresh Mediterranean flavors and locally-sourced ingredients here: Pacific Gold Oysters, Scallop & Foie Gras, Spot Prawns, Lamb Loin, Wagyu Tenderloin.  The popular Halibut and Squid Ink Pasta Carbonara features Santa Barbara uni.

Chef Marco and sou chef Chris Shertzer are expanding the resort's charcuterie program
For Chef Fossati, catering to four restaurants is a source for inspiration all its own.  For example, “We’ll soon be making four different burgers – one for each restaurant and each one with different pairings,” he says.  “That way they can compete against each other and we can see which one our guests like best.”

The Santa Barbara sea bass "Crudo"
The “we” he’s referring to is his staff of 80 cooks.  It’s a culinary team that “I don’t want to micromanage,” Chef says.  “But I do like to challenge people to see their capabilities.”  It’s one of the reasons for having menus that are dynamic, menus that evolve with what’s regionally and seasonally available.  “It gives guests incentive to keep coming back but it also keeps the staff learning and expanding their knowledge,” Chef Fossati says.

On a recent Saturday morning, Chef Fossati took several members of his kitchen crew to the Saturday Fisherman’s Market, where local boats sell fresh catches of the day right off their decks.  When they got their hands on a limited batch of black bass, Chef Fossati created a special on the spot and took to social media.  “Just enough for 15 portions,” he tweeted, along with pictures.   That night, in a unique learning lesson for guests and cooks alike, they sold out.

“We all have to be swimming in the same direction,” says Chef Fossati, “so that we can all grow together.”

For more information or to make reservations, visit fourseasons.com/santabarbara or call 805-969-2261.
  

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