They’ve Gotta Have It

What good is California if you can’t have your favorite food items?

Lizbeth Scordo Restaurants

Chef Stephen Wambach uses wild juniper for smoking and pickling.

All chefs have their go-to tools — a beloved knife dating back to cooking school, a newfangled sous-vide machine, a perfect piece of French cookware — but the most important tools in their kitchens are, of course, the ingredients. And while chefs get paid to transform them into memorable meals, there are certain products, often local and seasonal, procured from a favorite farm or much-loved market, that the pros simply want to showcase. We talked to six Coachella Valley chefs to find out which locally grown ingredients get their juices flowing.

Wild Juniper

Stephen Wambach
Executive Chef
4 Saints and Juniper Table
at Kimpton Rowan Palm Springs

Wambach forages for the fragrant ingredient in the High Desert near Joshua Tree. “It’s fun to carve time out of my day to find it, and it’s also a great way to clear my head and walk outside before I start my day,” he says. In addition to using juniper for smoking and pickling, Wambach infuses it into vinegars, including one he utilizes in 4 Saints’ Baja Kampachi dish. “Juniper has a strong flavor that’s the essence 
of winter.”

Oro Blanco 

Gabriel Woo
Executive Chef
The Barn Kitchen at Sparrows Lodge 
and The Pantry at Holiday House

Woo orders plenty of fruits from Sage Mountain Farms in Anza throughout the year — such as seasonal melons, pluots, and strawberries — but it’s the Oro Blanco grapefruit, a sweet, seedless hybrid of a pomelo and grapefruit, that he anticipates the most. “The flavor is so amazing that it burned a taste memory into my brain,” he explains. When it’s available, Woo makes sure to highlight it in the Fruits and Burrata plate at Barn Kitchen, garnishing it with avocado oil and blue mint from Sparrows’ garden.

Coachella Valley
Medjool Dates

Nestor Ruiz
Executive Chef
Mélange at The Chateau
at Lake La Quinta

This famous local fruit is about as versatile an ingredient as they come, according to Ruiz. “I serve them stuffed with blue cheese and wrapped in bacon as an appetizer. I’ll incorporate them into stuffing for chicken or caramelize them for our homemade date bread pudding.” The hotel loves its dates so much, it even gives them to guests as a welcome treat.

winter greens

Scooter Kanfer-Cartmill
The Tropicale

The former Los Angeles chef makes sure her purveyor grabs greens all year long from 
Coleman Family Farms, a Carpinteria-based grower who maintains a stall at the fabled Santa Monica Farmers Market. “They have all kinds of greens, lettuces, exotic herbs. There’s always something new or interesting,” says Kanfer-Cartmill, who gets especially excited for Tuscan kale and escarole in the cooler months. “I like to julienne it and thread it into these big Rancho Gordo beans from Napa, and make it more of a pasta fagioli or make it part of a vegetarian plate we garnish with some handmade ravioli. I don’t think of vegetables as just a side dish.”

Seasonal Lettuces

Jenna Van Loon
Executive Chef
Essense at Two Bunch Palms Resort & Spa

“I’m obsessed with all lettuces,” says Van Loon, who uses them to add brightness and balance to the rich dishes she craves in winter, like pozole or spicy chili. “Sorrel, magenta spinach, tangy purslane — you don’t realize how effectively crisp, lemony, earthy greens can change even the heartiest of dishes.” She looks for delicate lettuces with a citrus finish, such as red-veined sorrel, at County Line Farms in Thermal.

farm-fresh eggs

Arturo Casillas
Executive Chef
Acqua and Lulu California Bistros

Since both restaurants serve a lot of eggs during busy breakfast service, Casillas looks to Riverside’s GoneStraw Farms for hormone- and antibiotic-free options that are hand-collected from free-range, pasture-fed, humanely raised chickens. “The yolk of the farm-fresh egg is much richer in color and taste, which makes our egg dishes taste better … and they’re healthier, too.” Those eggs get mixed with everything from boursin cheese to chicken sausage in scrambles and omelets and are served poached atop eggs Benedict variations such as the California-Norwegian iteration, stacked with avocado, smoked salmon, and caviar.