Born in El Salvador, Oscar Ayala’s inspiration to create cooking masterpieces came from his grandmother, a hard working lady who became a local chef in the Coachella Valley.
Ayala began his career at a young age, working by his grandmother's side, learning her techniques and infusing Salvadoran roots into dishes.
“I knew that I wanted to follow in her footsteps, and my grandmother always said be consistent in what you do and they will keep coming back,” says Ayala.
Ayala earned his stripes at such venues as The Daily Grille and The Yard House before moving to the country club environment beginning with Indian Wells, Mountain View and Bighorn, where he was promoted to chef de cuisine.
Ayala’s dedication to serving top quality dishes and using farm fresh ingredients led him to Escena Lounge & Grill at Escena Golf Club in Palm Springs.
Ayala is sharing his Heirloom Tomato Salad recipe to help lighten your summer dining experience.
He has become an expert on Heirloom tomatoes after being diagnosed with high blood pressure and high cholesterol. His research into healthy cooking options took him to holistic alternatives to help reduce his health risks.
In his quest, he discovered the health benefits derived from Heirloom tomatoes – high in antioxidants with the ability to lower cholesterol. In fact, according to Ayala, there are more than 1,700 varietals of Heirloom tomatoes from around the world.
In addition to his recipe, we’ve shared some added tips from Chef Ayala. Be sure to check out his video demonstration and find out how to master two artistic and colorful presentations for this dish.
Ayala’s Advice for preparing Heirloom Tomatoes:
- “Organic tomatoes only have about a two day shelf life, so eat them right away.”
- “The darker the color, the better for you.”
- “If skin is wrinkled or bruised, don’t eat it.”
- “Use a sharp knife so the tomato skin doesn’t damage or bruise.”
Heirloom Tomato Salad Recipe
2 large heirloom tomatoes
Favorite varietals: Cherokee, Zebra Green, Baby cherry, and Yellow and Red Clusters.
6 ounces of bocconcini mozzarella
Homemade basil buttermilk ranch dressing
Salt and pepper
For the pesto
2 cups of fresh basil (packed)
½ cup of parmesan cheese
½ cups extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts
3 small garlic cloves minced
Salt and pepper to taste.*
Using a food processor, combine all of the ingredients except the oils. Slowly add oil until well combined. The pesto should be smooth, not stemmy.
For the basil buttermilk ranch
2 tablespoons minced shallots
4 tablespoons chopped basil
2 tablespoons of chopped chives
2 tablespoons of chopped parsley
1 small garlic clove
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
½ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons of Greek yogurt
1 cup of buttermilk
Salt and pepper to taste.*
Combine all ingredients in a bowl. You may need to add more buttermilk if needed.
Add salt and pepper to taste.*
“You can also balance the flavors with a little bit of honey…and a lot of love!”– Chef Ayala
Salad Preparation and Presentation
In a bowl mix pesto and bocconcini. Add salt and pepper* and let it rest for 10 minutes to marry the flavors. On a large plate, arrange sliced heirloom tomatoes; season them with salt and pepper*. Pour buttermilk ranch dressing on top of tomatoes about 2 ounces. Then place the bocconcini on top of the tomatoes and drizzle balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. For extra rich flavor use a balsamic glaze. Garnish with basil.
* “Always season, I don’t like to serve anything bland. My seasoning of choice, salt and pepper.”– Chef Ayala
VIDEO: Watch Chef Oscar Ayala create this recipe at Escena Lounge & Grill in Palm Springs.