Executive Chef, Marissa Gerlach’s winning approach to cuisine has developed through commitment and determination as she cooked her way up and through celebrated award winning restaurants in Sonoma and Napa. She has worked at Cyrus alongside Chef Douglas Keane, named one of the top 10 chefs of Food and Wine Magazine, 2010 and later at The Restaurant at Meadowood, a three stars Michelin dining room and resort. Chef Gerlach then returned to her hometown as Chef De Cuisine at the Ritz Carlton, Laguna Niguel, which was named 2011 Restaurant of the Year by Rivera Magazine. Vista Valley Country Club and its members now benefit from Chef Gerlach’s expertise and delectable creativity.
Q: As an established Executive Chef, what inspires you?
A: The farm to table movement. Growing up in California with a Mom who loved to cook, we’d have fun in the kitchen together. I came tounderstand early on that the state is a mecca of phenomenal ingredients that can turn into memorable dishes. And I am inspired by that every day and each time I go to an open market to shop for vegetables, produce, meats and seafood.
Q: What do you like about being the Executive Chef of an impressive dining room like that of the Vista Valley Country Club?
A: I really enjoy developing menus for our club members that highlight the freshest of elements that are found in Vista Valley’s backyard. It is a very fulfilling give and take exchange of experiences. They trust me to try new appetizers and entrees and I trust them to be honest about what they like and don’t like. I make sure I combine classic choices with innovative touches.
Q: You are in charge of all of the preparations at the Club, from meals in the restaurant to private events and special tasting menus. How do you do it?
A: I am very lucky. No Executive Chef can be anything without the support and backup of their team. The most important lesson I learned about being in a professional kitchen was working together to create success. We learn from each other. I have been so fortunate to work with and learn from remarkable chefs. At the Club, I look upon it as a group effort and I have a strong, very hands-on team. We work really well together.
I love seasons and create daily and weekly menus accordingly that will intrigue and I hope delight the club members’ palates. The special tasting menus and evenings are also such a joy to present. Wine pairing dinners are always a big hit and I am really looking forward to our upcoming Pork & Pinot event. I’m excited that I will get to serve a pork terrine with summer vegetables similar to the recipe I’ve just developed for Matfer and the Club’s March menus!
Q: Your Truffle & Mushroom Pork Terrine with Spring Green Garlic, Peas and Mustard Greens is gorgeous. How did you develop it?
A: I love braising, curing and embracing salt of the earth elements! I became enthralled with the French passion and method of making terrines all year long. Putting them together and implementing diverse seasonal ingredients is a wonderful challenge for me. I look at preparing a terrine as creating a piece of edible art on a plate. Not fussy, just delicious and beautiful where I can mix and match flavors and colorful sauces that intrigue guests. They are then pleasantly surprised with their first bite and finish it all off. I smile when I see an empty plate come into the kitchen after service!
Q: What is it about the Matfer products that make a difference in your preparation and results of your various dishes?
A: I trust Matfer products. They make my job so much easier. I can then get on with cooking and creating. The items are timeless yet keep evolving with chefs’ needs and wants. Matfer products were always in the Michelin kitchens I trained and worked in throughout my career. I learned and knew early on what a difference using them makes from start to finish of a recipe and its final result.
Q: What do you think of Matfer’s Exopan Steel Pie Mold, Black Steel Round Crepe Pan, Black Steel Round Frying Pan, Bourgeat Excellence Casserole and Bourgeat Sauce Pan and the Stainless Steel Ladle?
A: They are all amazing especially since they allow me to work so well with hot and cold items throughout the process of making a terrine. Right now, the front runners are the two Matfer Steel Round Sauce Pans and the phenomenal Steel Meat Mold. I love that no matter what type of terrine I make, it always comes out just right with no sticking since the side latches open and the bottom slides out. Both the Black Steel Round Crepe Pan and the Black Steel Round Frying Pan are also fantastic. The size and shape of these pans are perfect because they are sturdy and easy to handle. The black steel holds heat well and evenly which makes them ideal for searing.
Q: What are your favorite Matfer must-have tools?
A: I always rely on the Matfer whisk and the ladle no matter what I’m preparing. And I think the Matfer Orange Mitts are a cool color! It’s fantastic that they keep my hands and arms so safe from burning especially when I’m concentrating on removing something hot from the oven or stove.
Q: In 1851, Alexis Soyer, an established 19th century French Chef said, “Pork-no animal is more used for nourishment and none more indispensable in the kitchen; employed either fresh or salt, all is useful.” Do you agree?
A: Yes! I’m thrilled with this quote on so many levels! I’m a big fan of pork. And I have such respect for the classical French approach to food and preparation. I aspire to that. This tradition of using all of an animal to create numerous dishes was lost for a while and I treasure being part of that revival. It is nature at its best with new specialties all of the time.
Q: On a personal note, are terrines your favorite thing to eat?
A: Well, I always taste and try everything along the way of developing and testing my recipes before I serve them. So I happily eat a lot of slices of terrines! But being a Californian, I love any kind of fresh fruit and I adore heirloom tomatoes.
TOOLS FOR THE TASTE
As an inspirational chef, you are guaranteed a perfect outcome for your own modern terrine creation when you use Matfer’s Exopan Steel Meat Pie Mold, Black Steel Round Frying Pan, Bourgeat Excellence Casserole and Bourgeat Sauce Pan, the Stainless Steel Ladle, and Matfer’s Black Steel Round Crepe Pan.
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