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Your Top Five Chefs and Restaurateurs in the Desert

Written By: Alana Aronson Chefs in Palm Desert

We brought together several of Palm Desert’s most talented chefs for an online poll, giving you the power to pick your favorites. The four winning chefs—and one dedicated restaurateur—chosen by you, are incredibly passionate, hardworking, and have skills seemingly unmatched in the culinary industry. From their favorite dishes at their restaurant, to what inspires them each day before work, we got the chance to ask the questions you know you want the answers to.

 

Thomas Horner: Executive Chef, JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa

Q: Where do you draw inspiration?  

Thomas Horner: Seasons. Even though the desert doesn’t always show distinct seasons, it is so important in the quality of food.  

Q: What gets you excited before each service at the restaurant?

TH: The organization of the team. Knowing that every cook has their mise en place ready and not taking the chance. We are like a well-oiled machine, and I place a huge emphasis on the importance of teamwork in my kitchen.

Q: What does being voted one of the top 4 chefs in Palm Desert mean to you?  

TH: There are many great chefs in the desert, so I’m very honored and humbled.

Q: Where can we find you when you aren’t at work?  

TH: In the garden, dreaming, or hanging with my super wife and three kids.  

Q: What is your favorite dish at the restaurant?

TH: We are always pushing for the best burger, so that is always my go-to.

 

Engin Onural: Owner and Sushi Chef, The Venue Sushi Bar & Sake Lounge

Q: Where do you draw inspiration?  

Engin Onural: By traveling massively and exploring other cultures and their cuisines.

Q: What gets you excited before each service at the restaurant?

EO: After making sushi more than a decade and making sushi at my restaurant for more than six years, I still get very excited to walk in and turn on the lights of my kitchen and the dining room. It is a small kitchen but it is my kitchen.

Greeting my team, making coffee yes lots of it, and simply start prepping for the night while we go over all of the reservations.

Showing my team the new specials we have for that night.

Q: What does being voted one of the top 4 chefs in Palm Desert mean to you?

EO: It means that I am extremely grateful for people who continue to support our dream and allow me to do what I love as my work.

Q: Where can we find you when you aren’t at work?

EO: At a friend’s restaurant walking into their kitchen *laughs.* Most likely at Ernest Coffee poking Greg for more coffee and if it is night time, I mean after midnight poking Greg for more Rosé at Bootlegger. (I might be) at Babe’s Bar-B-Que & Brewhouse picking up some New York steaks while talking smack at Art while drinking his coffee. (I could also be) at Wilma & Frieda’s walking into their kitchen, starting to eat tater tots while Chad yells at me to get out, yes I know he likes seeing me in his kitchen—or giving Kelly a hard time asking for more pop tarts…

Q: What is your favorite dish at the restaurant?

EO: The Venue Roll, period.

 

Erik Dandee: Executive Chef, WP Kitchen + Bar  

Q: Where do you draw inspiration?

Erik Dandee: I draw inspiration from the changing of the seasons, knowing that there will be new fruits and vegetables every weekend, and the constant evolution of creating new ways to cook and present those items for the guests.  

Q: What gets you excited before service?

ED: I get excited because I know that we are going to be curating a memorable experience for our guests when they come in and eat at the restaurant. Everybody likes to eat, and knowing that someone has taken the time out of their day to come see us is a great feeling.

Q: What does being voted top 5 mean to you?

ED: It means that in some way I’m helping to make an impact in our community and that the food and experience we’re creating at WP Kitchen + Bar is really resonating with our guests. I’m surrounded by many talented people here and throughout the Wolfgang Puck family. Having this recognition is a very humbling experience.

Q: Where can we find you when not at work?

ED: Around town, eating and drinking my way through all the best spots in the valley.

Q: What is your favorite dish at the restaurant?

ED: Brick Chicken calabrese, it’s the perfect mix of all the flavors: salty, sweet, savory. It’s one of my favorites to prepare and a popular choice for the majority of diners we take care of at the restaurant.

Chad Spears: Executive Chef, Wilma & Frieda’s Cafe

Q: Where do you draw inspiration?

Chad Spears: I’ve drawn my inspiration from the various chef’s I’ve worked with. I’ve learned from the successes and from their mistakes. It is important to me to apply what I’ve learned to make Wilma & Frieda’s successful and for me to do the best I can with integrity. In addition, my team provides daily inspiration for me. I like to watch them develop and become successful.

Q: What gets you excited before each service at the restaurant?

CS: Actually the camaraderie from the team as we begin the setup and prep in our kitchen. There is a lot of laughter and jokes going on among us. Insuring we provide the best and freshest ingredients we can source, and with this getting the positive response from our regulars. My motto my team hears often is “Prior planning prevents piss poor performance”, (The 6 P’s to success) I heard this from a co-worker a long time ago, and it made me laugh, but it stuck in my head that there was truth to it.

Q: What does being voted one of the top 4 chefs in Palm Desert mean to you?

CS: It is really a high honor to me. There is a lot of competition out there and some great chefs, so to build a restaurant that has been successful being surrounded with so much competition, I feel happy to have achieved this. I knew this wasn’t going to be easy when we opened the restaurant, and actually truth be told….a little frightening, but I am to determined to set myself apart through my creativity and high quality sourcing and look forward to the next challenge of opening our second location in Palm Springs.

Q: Where can we find you when you aren’t at work?

CS: I work hard, so when I am off I enjoy quieter relaxation time. I like going out for a nice meal, taking spontaneous trips to the beach or even some fun at an amusement park. I’m not the bar/party type of guy. More low key than people would think.

Q: What is your favorite dish at the restaurant?

CS: I would have to say our Short Rib Eggs Benedict, with the house made English muffin and slow braised short rib and sauteed arugula, or our Signature Griddled Meatloaf & Egg with barbecue sauce and Ritz crackers for a rich finish.

 

Eric Morcus, Owner, Kaiser Grille Palm Desert

Kaiser Grille’s chef, who placed top 5 in our poll, no longer works with the retaurant. We picked the brain of Kaiser Grille’s owner, Eric to see what is behind their success!

Q: What is your favorite dish at the restaurant?

Eric Morcus: Caprese salad followed by a ribeye steak. The caprese salad is light and refreshing, followed by my favorite cut of steak!

Q: What do you think makes you, or your restaurant, stand apart from the rest in such a large industry?

EM: I think about this question everyday. I treat the guests like they are in my own home. In many respects, this is my home, since I devote so many hours here. I recently had a conversation with my 14 year old son, who works weekends with me here. He said he loved working here because of the people—the guests and our team members. I always manage to “connect” with a guest or two each night, which I then consider a friend. When I was younger, I would throw dinner parties for my friends. The approach was simple. I would invite my friends over for a meal to share good food and good conversation. So, for me, the more life changes, the more it stays the same.

My philosophy is simple – take care of our two types of guests! My team members have many years experience with our restaurant group. I think of them as my “first guests” I have an obligation to keep them happy and engaged. This shows through to our “second” guests.

Q: What about your menu stands out from others?

EM: My menu is designed about what the guests want. I always try to listen to the guests to find their likes and dislikes. Since we make nearly everything (not ice cream, for instance), in house and fresh, we have to be more consistent than the restaurants that pour a can of soup into a saucepan. I believe our guests deserve better, and if I wouldn’t eat it, I will not serve it.

Q: Where can we find you when you aren’t at work?

EM: When I’m not at work, I love to be with my family or outdoors. One of my favorite places locally is Bump and Grind or the Cross. I de-stress up there. It provides a different perspective for me.

Q: What do you most admire about your team at your restaurant?

EM: I most admire about my team is they are fiercely devoted to taking care of the guests. They are empowered to take care of the guests and they do not take for granted this trust I place in them. Their level of teamwork is usually noted by our guests as well as employees from other restaurants.These Desert Chefs and Restaurateur Are Doing Big Things