As kitchen manager at Barrelhouse 101 in downtown Ventura, Becky Blosser aims to please. So when the restaurant's owner, Joby Yobe, asked if she could replicate the tater-tots-on-steroids appetizer he'd seen in his travels, Blosser gave it a try.
"I made what looked like a 3-pound tater tot out of hash browns with cheddar cheese, bacon and jalapeños. It was so huge I could cradle it in my arms," Blosser said with a laugh. The results were dubbed "Tater Baby," a name that lives on among the restaurant's staff.
Blosser went back to the drawing board, which in this case involved finding out if the oversized tater tots were available commercially. They were. And so it is that bacon-cheddar Tater Kegs, a product of Stone Gate Foods in Shakopee, Minnesota, will debut next week on the restaurant's research-and-development menu for September.
"If people like them, they'll go on the regular menu," Blosser said of the Tater Kegs, which are each about 2 inches long and 1½ inches thick, with crispy-golden crusts and warm, creamy centers flecked with bits of chive.
Also on the R&D menu launching Sept. 12 will be dishes created under Blosser's watch. They include two vegetarian sandwiches, one made with rosemary focaccia from Ventura Spaghetti Co., and the Tap House Burger, a carnivore's delight that tops a half-pound patty with ends-and-pieces style bacon, melted white cheddar and onions caramelized in Bear Republic Brewing Co.'s Racer 5 IPA, one of the 101 craft beers on tap at the restaurant.
"Burgers are something you can really get creative with, and that appeals to me," Blosser said.
Read on to learn more about Blosser, who is scheduled to participate — along with other local chefs and visiting celebs Martha Stewart and Duff Goldman -- when the inaugural Ventura County Star Food & Wine Experience takes place Oct. 1 at the Olivas Adobe in Ventura.
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In the beginning: Blosser, 37, was born in the Orange County town of Garden Grove but considers Phoenix her hometown after moving there at age 10. A Ventura County resident since 2013, she now lives in Oxnard.
Previous restaurants: The Saloon BBQ Co. in downtown Ventura and, before that, the Waffle House in Phoenix. Blosser was at the latter for almost 15 years and loved it. "I worked for an awesome owner who gave me a ton of great opportunities for professional growth. It may not be the loftiest of beginnings from a culinary standpoint but I wouldn't change it for the world."
Who has influenced your cooking the most?: "My Grandma. She was something. I have her old recipe box that my uncle made her. It's full of Pillsbury and Sara Lee recipes that she cut off of the boxes and out of Good Housekeeping and Woman's Day magazines and taped to index cards.
"It has a witch's hat glued to the top for a handle, and I think that just personifies her. She was eclectic. She was a nurturer in every way: You went to Grandma's and she fed you. Sometimes it was just a tomato and mayo sandwich and hot tea, and that was damn good."
Where did you go to culinary school?: "I did not. I have had the pleasure of working with some really great people who have shown me different ways."
Why did you become a chef?: "It felt natural. It made me happy. When I look out into a full restaurant it just (makes) me feel like ... these people are here making us a part of their life, eating my food."
What's your favorite ingredient?: "Right now it's probably beer!" (She laughs) "You get wrapped up in this culture. I used to drink Stella on a good day, and now I'm dropping $12 for a bottle of barrel-aged stout, and it's incredible. I've been playing around with these super-fun takes on bread pudding (made with) beer."
Favorite cookbook: "Home Fermentation: A Starter Guide" by Katherine Green (Sonoma Press, 2015). "I have this fantastically holistic friend (who) has really inspired me to create more probiotic-rich foods."
Favorite kitchen gadget: "A good set of cast iron makes me really happy."
What food is your guilty pleasure?: "Chicken tenders. I eat them all the time. They are just so good and basic. Tossed in barbecue sauce and dipped in ranch, or tossed in buffalo and put on a salad ... my fave."
What music do you play in the kitchen?: "Music is so crucial to your energy," said Blosser, who might listen to Rob Zombie and Five Finger Death Punch while getting the kitchen ready to open. "Sundays, that's for oldies. It's a rule here. Well, it's my rule so I think that makes it a rule." (She laughs.) Also, "I will sing anything to the tune of 'Part of Your World' from 'The Little Mermaid.' "
What's your favorite dish on the Barrelhouse menu right now?: "Carnitas tacos. They were served with watermelon salsa when we put them on the R&D menu for July. Now they're back with pico de gallo."
What food trends, in general, are you loving right now?: "Fermented foods. I also really love that people are getting so environmentally conscious about food." Barrelhouse already participates in a food-scraps composting program; Blosser hopes to team with a food-rescue program to further reduce waste.
What food trends do you think have run their course?: "Pork belly. Stop, already!"
Most memorable meal: "Not a meal, but I had this ricotta gelato in Positano last October that was just, oh my god, it was so amazing. Rich and shocking."
Proudest moment as a chef: For her debut as a participating chef at the Casa Pacifica Angels Food, Wine & Brew Festival in June, Blosser decided to enter the event's Yummie Top Chef competition and "stressed about my entry for months leading up to it. Fast forward to plating for judging and I swear I feel good. In my heart I just know I'm going to wow the judges.
"Ha, no! I didn't even make it past the first round of judging. So I slink back and cry on the stairs, just feeling rejected, you know? My boyfriend sits next to me for a bit, indulges my self-pity and then says, 'Hey, look.' And my tent has a line. People are waiting for food. They came back for seconds and thirds. They were the real judges."
Your kitchen nightmare would be: "Not having the energy left to dig us out of a killer night."
If you weren't a chef you'd be: "I went to EMT school and worked really hard and kicked ass, but, man, the first time some senseless tragedy hits, you're just floored."
Any (culinary or otherwise) tattoos?: "The words 'Everyone deserves the chance to fly.' They're from my favorite musical, 'Wicked'."
(Barrelhouse 101 is at 545 E. Thompson Blvd., 805-643-0906, http://www.barrelhouse101.com.)
For tickets ($85-$325) and information about the Ventura County Star Food & Wine Experience, click on http://foodandwine.vcstar.com.
OPEN, SHUT AND IN BETWEEN
Published in The Star's Business section on Sept. 6, this week's Open and Shut column included news about the debuts of Moody Rooster in Thousand Oaks, of Los Agaves Restaurant in Oxnard and of Dominic's Ristorante and Charm Thai Cuisine (the latter at the former Niroj Kurdish Cuisine) in Agoura Hills, plus the apparent closure of Dairy Queen / Orange Julius in Port Hueneme and the "coming soon" status of Channel Islands Juice Co. in downtown Ventura. To read it, go to http://bit.ly/2w58N7I.
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ROLL OUT THE BARREL ...
... and the welcome mat. The German restaurant and beer haus Jeanette's Edelweiss in Newbury Park has a new head chef in Rocco Suckert, whose arrival comes just in time for the restaurant's third annual Oktoberfest Celebration. (More about that in a minute.)
Suckert comes to Jeanette's by way of Germany, where he worked as head chef at restaurants in the Rhine River wine region and catered events for Lufthansa Airlines. According to a media release from Jeanette's owners, he "most recently ran three acclaimed German restaurants in the capital city of Mongolia."
He replaces Jeanette's opening chef Kurt Ehrlich, who now heads a Burbank-based catering company. Suckert's early additions to the menu include wurstsalat (bratwurst with peppers and onions in a tangy dressing) and apple fritters with vanilla sauce.
Oktoberfest will kick off at 4 p.m. Sept. 16, when Hans Jörg Neumann, German Counsul General of Los Angeles, visits the restaurant to tap a ceremonial keg of beer (the first beers off the keg will be free, so be there when that happens). Reservations are recommended for food service during seatings at 4, 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. Festivities include music by the Jeanette's Edelweiss Polka Band (2160 Newbury Road, 805-498-7300, http://jeanettesedelweiss.com).
GOOD FOR WHAT ALES YA
Downtown Ventura will turn into craft-beer central when the ninth annual California Beer Festival rolls into town for a three-day schedule of events. Up first: a food-and-beer pairing competition featuring seven teams of brewmasters and chefs from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Sept. 15 at Ventura City Hall. Tickets, $60, include live music, a souvenir pint glass and the right to vote for your favorite pairing. Plaza Park will be the setting for the festival's Craft Beer Heaven ($50-$75) on Sept. 16, followed by the Boots & Brews Country Music Festival($25-$50) on Sept. 17. For tickets and details, click on https://www.californiabeerfestival.com.
Dine at a participating Jersey Mike's Subs location from Sept. 11-17, and $1 from your order of a regular sized No. 7 Turkey Breast Provolone sub will be donated to the Houston Food Bank and Corpus Christi Food Bank in an effort to help Texans impacted by Hurricane Harvey. In addition, anyone making a $2 donation to the food banks will earn a card that can be redeemed for a free sub between Sept. 15 and Dec. 1. For a list of locations, go to https://www.jerseymikes.com/locations.
The second annual Blue Jean Ball to benefit FOOD Share of Ventura County will feature food and drinks from area restaurants, breweries and wineries when it takes place from 5-9 p.m. Sept. 14 at Walnut Grove at Tierra Rejada Farms in Moorpark. The event, which will honor FOOD Share co-founder Jewel Pedi as she marks her 90th birthday, will include dancing, silent and live auctions and a denim carpet for paparazzi-perfect arrivals. For tickets, $75, click on http://www.foodshare.com/bluejeanball.
Lisa McKinnon is a staff writer for The Star. To contact her, send email to [email protected] To have the VCS Eats newsletter delivered directly to your inbox, visit http://bit.ly/VCS_Eats and type in your email address.
Food & Wine event at Olivas Adobe on Oct. 1 PROMO
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