For Bobby and Nanette King, 2020 was supposed to be a banner year. The Big Bear Lake–based couple planned to celebrate two milestone birthdays (50 and 40, respectively) and their five-year wedding anniversary with a special family vacation—the first since the birth of their young daughter, Violet. After the pandemic hit and major travel was off the table, the family searched for something special they could do at home. Nanette suggested a recipe journey: They’d cook every dish from What’s for Dinner, a favorite cookbook by Curtis Stone.
“We love eating out at restaurants—so instead, we kind of traveled the globe through the different flavors,” says Nanette, who closed down her home bakery business during the pandemic in order to meet Violet’s childcare needs. After 366 days, the couple had cooked every single recipe in the book (with Bobby tracking the details on a master spreadsheet), but they never got that trip they’d been so looking forward to.
That all changed when a friend nudged the couple to enter the Dreaming On in California contest, a program created by Visit California to help people make up for plans derailed by COVID-19. One prize caught Nanette’s eye: a trip to Santa Monica where winners would be treated to a fabulous dinner at Shutters on the Beach prepared by none other Stone, the chef whose food the Kings had spent a full year cooking. Within a few weeks, the couple found out they had been selected as one of the winners.
“It was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Nanette says. “Especially after being confined to our home for so long, just to be able to be in the space was amazing and the dinner was impeccable.” The Kings enjoyed California-inspired dishes created by Stone including Santa Barbara spot prawns and Pacific swordfish with jeweled potatoes. Bobby told Stone about their cooking experience—and Violet got to meet the guy she admired from the book jacket.
When they weren’t dining on dishes from an award-winning chef, the Kings enjoyed the stunning views from their oceanside room at Hotel Casa Del Mar and played on the beach with their daughter, who was entranced by the waves and “pom pom trees.” On their way back to Big Bear, the family made a special stop at Curtis Stone’s Gwen Butcher Shop & Restaurant to pick up some meat and bring a piece of the experience home.
With California now fully reopened and their life returning to a new normal, the Kings are looking forward to more landmark moments in 2021. Inspired by cooking What’s for Dinner and her experience in Santa Monica, Nanette plans to tackle a big goal: This month, she begins online classes to formally train as a holistic chef.