AC3 Restaurant + Bar in Palm Desert is the latest entry to the desert food scene from the team of Andrew Copley (Copley’s) and Tony Marchese (Trio). The classic dishes creatively spun are a testament to Copley’s worldly culinary expertise and executive chef Brandon Testi’s modern and fresh approach. I sat down with Testi, an Orange County native, to chat about his life, favorite dishes, and the anatomy of a salmon dish.
How did you become interested in being a chef?
Just by the desire of wanting to cook and know more about food, how to prepare it, and all the nuances of how to prepare it better. I cooked a lot with my mom when I was younger, and I had a lot of questions. And being a mom who cooked the basics to provide for the family, she’s like, “You need to go to culinary school,” and so I went right out of high school — enjoyed it, thrived in it, and it’s really paid off.
What is your favorite cuisine to cook and to eat?
Italian to cook. Growing up in an Italian home; lots of pasta, lots of meatballs, lots of big, bold sauces. Garlic bread, homemade pasta doughs. Classic Italian desserts: tiramisu, panna cotta.
VIDEO: Executive Chef Brandon Testi prepares his favorite dish, the striped bass, at AC3 Restaurant + Bar.
What do you like to prepare at home?
My wife would say a regular, nice sausage pasta. My family has an Italian sausage recipe that I won’t give you (laughs). Every holiday season the family gets together, and we grind the pork, roast the spices, and put it in the casings. Fresh pasta and good homemade Italian sausage — you can’t beat it.
Is there a chef you admire?
One chef I admire the most currently is Richard Blais. I enjoy his style of food and the techniques he puts into it. I’ve eaten at his restaurant Juniper & Ivy quite a few times.
What’s the best city to eat in?
Las Vegas. It seems like a weird answer, but it really is a melting pot of some the world’s greatest chefs doing some of the greatest things they are known for, all within in a two-mile stretch.
Who would you most like to cook for?
I enjoy cooking for my mother. I really do. It may sound a little cliché, but there is no better satisfaction than mom being satisfied. My mom is a very simple lady who enjoys good, flavorful food. That’s how I was brought up to cook: good, family-style food that everyone can enjoy. Her honesty is what matters most to me.
What is your favorite ingredient to cook with?
In California we are spoiled using some of the best and most local ingredients. I feel like with the style of food I like to prepare, the citruses: grapefruits, lemons, and limes. I like to incorporate acidity and balance it. I would have to say citrus because of all the different components and elements it can bring to a dish as far as brightness and freshness.
The striped bass is prepared with black lentils, grapefruit, Tinkerbell peppers, Dinosaur kale, mushrooms, and smoked Citrus butter.
What are people in the desert looking for in a dining experience?
You have to be able to produce a good, quality menu from start to finish. You can’t have a very successful appetizer menu and forget about the entrees. You can’t have a successful dessert option without considering the entire experience. As a desert diner, they definitely come into the restaurant wanting specifics, so you need to give them that, but they’re also willing to be challenged. You can push the envelope with their palate.
What have you learned from chef Andrew Copley and how has it influenced your cooking?
He is a magician with herbs and spices. He’s got a lot of experience overseas, obviously, being European. He has that as a base, and then he’s spent a lot of time in Australia and Hawaii, so he’s had time to build up those flavors as well. He and I work elbow to elbow, knife to knife, creating dishes. So when we say, “We need a new salmon dish,” we figure out what cut to look for, what size to look for. We ask, “What does this dish need to achieve? What void does it need to fill in our menu? What is it that our guests are asking for? How do we make this a very adventurous salmon dish that’s not your traditional salmon, asparagus, risotto?” We have a forbidden black rice that we infuse with sour plum vinaigrette and then some wilted chicories on a really nicely seared piece of salmon with wasabi peas that are crushed up.
He lends his knowledge to me as I push myself to be a little more creative. He says, “This is what has worked in my past; let’s see if we can take what I know well, with your techniques and modernism, to create this dish.”
Ac3 Restaurant + Bar, 45350 Larkspur Lane, Palm Desert, 760-340-6069; ac3palmdesert.com.