In the culinary world, receiving a Michelin star is a bit like winning an Academy Award. For chefs who earn their first or even second star, that thrill of accomplishment certainly feels like Oscar night.
“It’s a pinch-yourself moment,” says chef Daisy Ryan who, along with co-owner husband Greg, recently earned a Michelin star for their Los Alamos bistro Bell’s. “We're proud to be recognized for something that, in some ways, we never had any sort of intention.”
On the latest episode of the California Now Podcast, host Soterios Johnson chats with the Ryans and two other Golden State chefs who were recently recognized by Michelin. While their restaurants have their own distinctive personalities, the chefs all share some common attributes: a focus on California’s natural bounty, and a lot of passion.
Two-star chef Matthew Kammerer, for instance, credits much of his success at the Harbor House Inn to the natural resources of his Mendocino County home.
“I wanted to get in touch with the vegetable side of fine dining,” Kammerer tells Johnson, “cooking vegetables and local rockfish and species that are not imported—to show that you could have the experience of a two-star using humble ingredients.” Simple ingredients still create sublime experiences, such as the cliffside restaurant’s popular sourdough bread that’s infused with sea lettuce foraged from the cove below. Kammerer’s commitment to local ingredients and eco-minded practices also earned him a Michelin green star for sustainability.
Adapting to their environment is part of what helped the Ryans thrive at Bell’s. The couple cut their teeth working in New York City restaurants such as Gramercy Tavern and Thomas Keller's Per Se, spent a few years in Austin, Texas, and then in 2018 opened a French-inspired restaurant in the Santa Ynez Valley, near where Daisy grew up. The Central Coast wine region, Greg says, “has some California vibes, and some Texas vibes, but also reminds us of smaller towns in France.”
The result is a bistro that exudes both special-occasion ambience and countryside charm, with popular dishes such as a beef tartare topped with a sunny-side up quail egg. “We wanted it to be the type of place that you could walk into after work,” Daisy says. “Maybe your jeans are a little bit dirty, but you can sit down at the bar and have a great glass of wine and some very enjoyable food.”
Dinner is both a special occasion and a work of art at Addison, the Del Mar restaurant helmed by San Diego native William Bradley. Addison earned its first Michelin star in 2019—the first star for any San Diego County restaurant—then a second star in 2021.
Although the stately, dark-wood-and-marble dining room initially focused on contemporary French cuisine, it has come to embody what Bradley calls “California gastronomy”—fueled by local ingredients and channeling Latin, Asian, and French influences. “Gastronomy is a lifestyle,” Bradley tells Johnson, “and there are so many different cultures that represent California and that lifestyle of gastronomy. I think it is helping us have our own voice.”
That voice is articulated through a tasting menu of dazzling small dishes, like a porridge of curry rice with a smoked sabayon that’s finished with caviar. After you advise your waiter of any general dietary preferences, the kitchen sends out a parade of culinary delights with wine pairings. “It’s that element of surprise that is part of the fun,” Bradley says. “You're discussing the dish—I wonder what the next dish is going to be?—and then the wine pairing comes and [you] start talking about the wine. You can just take a step away from everything, and really enjoy yourself.”