Three and a half years ago, born-and-raised-Ramonan Ben Peterson applied to be a cook in San Vicente Resort's kitchen. He heard a rumor that the executive chef title might be up for grabs. Now, the executive chef has full control of the small kitchen (20 ft. of counterspace) that feeds 400 covers on weekend nights.
"I pitched myself as an executive chef in the [initial] interview," Peterson told Patch. "I was a kitchen manager and interim chef while they accepted applicants for the executive chef position."
Ninety days later, Peterson got the job and started doing what he loved: making food with a passion.
"It's the perfect translation, from head to plate," the chef of both Oaks Grill and Par Lounge said. "It's the whole aspect of the 'creation.'"
The young chef (he's only 35), worked as a line cook and general manager around Ramona, including and , and even toured in a band. He never took cooking classes, but rather cooks from experience.
"I did a couple of culinary school [classes]," Peterson said. "But I never finished it."
Peterson said that cooking was a kind of "awakening" for him and his grandfather was somewhat influential to his career.
"My grandpa was a chef," he said. "And I kind of just figured it out."
Interestingly enough, Peterson said the plating aspect of being a chef is tougher than the actual preparation of the delicious food.
"That's the part that takes years and years and years."
Peterson says his background is New Orleans–a French and Cajun combination that really shines through in his sauces. But his real love lies within local ingredients and elevated dishes.
"We've been trying to see how far I can push people," Peterson said. "We've brought in ingredients that you don't get in this town."
The passionate chef has brought in local scallops to serve to guests, along with truffles, homemade risottos and even a "deconstruted and then reconstructed" shrimp cocktail that turned its profits by 100 percent.
"We took regular old 1960's shrimp cocktail and totally revised it into a different plate," Peterson said. "We flattened it out, changed the actual cocktail sauce into more of a salsa, added fresh avocado and there is a micro-celery and cilantro salad on top of it with fresh lemon zest."
Peterson said he's slowly introducing the farm-to-table concept to the restaurant. He's been working with s and Eagle Creek to see what kind of fresh produce he can bring to the menu and is even sourcing local beef.
"That would revolve around a seasonal menu," he said about using local ingredients. "Which is something we need to do with [the impending] smaller menu."
The innovative chef is hoping to bring the 50-60 item menu to just below 30, a process he says is slow since they have to see what the guests like and revise accordingly.
"I want to do a restaurant that local people can brag about and come and be surprised," Peterson said. "Food is kind of an experience and I don't think any other restaurant offers an 'experience.'"
Want to get a taste of Chef Ben's passion? Visit Oaks Grill on a Friday or Saturday night to try his best plates and keep a watch out for his offered quarterly each year.