California Grill is celebrating 15 years atop Disney’s Contemporary Resort. In our current Fall 2010 issue, we have a review of the restaurant and talk with Executive Chef Brian Piasecki. Here’s a Q&A with Brian that we didn’t have room for in the issue.
As a chef, what do you love most about the California Grill?
The passion, creativity and ability to stay updated with fresh, seasonal and inspiring ingredients throughout the year. It is an amazing place filled with energy and an electricity of people and families coming together for a wonderful experience. I know their expectations are high when they walk in the door, so that really keeps me motivated and driven.
How have you tweaked the menu?
Over the last year the menu has gone through many transformations. I have been focused on using local products when possible; sustainability in the produce and seafood I select, and using alternative lean, red meats that are low in fat and high in protein such as ostrich and bison. I have also been very focused on a return to the basics in the kitchen direction, ensuring that all products are handled and prepared with the upmost care and attention to detail. We have been focused on expanding the sushi selections and introducing new and different product such as Hiramsa fish and fresh wasabi root.
What will never leave the menu?
There are several extremely popular menu items that have become staples such as the goat cheese ravioli with sun-dried tomato nectar and the grilled pork tenderloin with zinfandel glaze, button mushrooms and goat cheese polenta. And there are the menu categories that will never go away such as the flatbreads and sushi.
Any new ideas you can share?
I continue to work with our seafood suppliers to introduce a new sushi menu that will incorporate all 100 percent sustainable fish selections. I am also working on the possibility of starting very specific themed menus for popular foods when they come in season, like heirloom tomatoes. Wouldn’t it be great to come to dinner at the California Grill in the middle of tomato season and be presented with a five-course menu that has tomatoes as the main ingredient in each course? Then think about the possibilities: fresh Florida-grown Zellwood corn, wild mushrooms, heirloom squash . . . there are some very exciting possibilities!
Describe your culinary inspirations.
For me, inspiration comes in many forms – it may be a twist on an old favorite, or using a product new to the market, or using something that is local, organic or sustainable. Sometimes fun twists on classic flavors or familiar foods combined with the freshest and “just in season” items drive my plate combinations and profiles. I strive to bring familiar foods to the table in a simple, yet natural way so that the flavors shine – if it’s salmon, it has to be an amazing piece of wild, fresh, rich salmon – the best we can source and make that the true star on the plate.
What was your most memorable meal anywhere in the world?
My most memorable meal was at a very small restaurant in South Africa, Rust en Vrede. I was able to go into the kitchen and cook for the first part of the dinner with Executive Chef David Higgs, who also had an amazing passion for fresh and local ingredients and a strong focus on detail and flavors. It is the restaurant at the Rust en Vrede winery, so we dined with the winemaker and experienced every aspect of the estate. Dinner was seven courses, all local items from the market, house-cured bacon – with great conversation about food, trends, diners and what’s next for the world of food.
Name three things that are always in your fridge at home.
Half and half, eggs and Tony Packos sweet hots pickles and peppers
What is your favorite dish to make at home?
I don’t cook at home as much as I would like since I am in the restaurant most nights, but I do love being in the kitchen with my kids [ages 11, 13 and 15]. They love to cook and they love to watch me cook, so any time we get to be together to make a big Sunday breakfast, a batch of brownies or a roast pork dinner is very special for me.
What food would you never give up?
What’s your favorite Disney attraction?
It’s a toss-up between Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. I am a huge coaster fan and adrenaline junkie.
For more about Chef Brian and the California Grill, be sure to get a copy of the Fall 2010 Orlando Attractions Magazine. You can purchase the Fall issue here, or at major book stores in the U.S.