Shadowbrook’s executive chef marries creativity and innovation in the restaurant’s unforgettable dishes
A scintillating platter of food is set on the table and almost immediately one’s senses make a mad dash toward “overload.” What makes the dish stand out? The aroma? The presentation? The food itself?
Maybe all of that, but one thing is certain, when this surf and turf tower is placed in front of you, the combination of grilled flank steak, seared garlic prawns, blackened ahi tuna, jalapeño poppers, stone fruit relish, citrus aioli and fried pickled ginger is truly hard to resist.
And it’s only the first course. The family-style spread is followed by a caprese with Burrata and oven-roasted figs, organic strawberries, Italian olive oil, balsamic reduction, and various heirloom tomatoes. Some time later, another culinary wonder arrives: a luscious Corvina seabass over a glamorous white bean/bacon and tomato creation.
Just another evening at Capitola’s iconic Shadowbrook Restaurant? Hardly. Thanks to the addition of Executive Chef Anthony Kresge, who entered the Shadowbrook fold less than a year ago, the menu has been updated and there seems to be fiery attention to culinary details and innovative new offerings. The family-style platter—dubbed The Godfather—is just one of them, and locals craving a unique dining experience are encouraged to call ahead and arrange such an excursion.
But Kresge, who began his professional career at the young age of 17, is determined to make big leaps here. It doesn’t hurt that he apprenticed under some of the finest chef/restaurateurs in the heart of Napa Valley before nabbing a Masters Certification in Europe and later opening and operating corporate kitchens in Silicon Valley. The fruits of his masterful labor is definitely on display at Shadowbrook, which co-owners Ted Burke and Robert Munsey continue to successfully fuel with distinctly one-of-a-kind passion. The new additions on the seasonal menu are tempting, to say the least: Wonton duck confit and wrapped salad with red wine poached pears and Maytag blue cheese, and fresh lentils tossed with champagne vinaigrette; a veal osso buco Milanese—bone marrow saffron risotto finished off with braised veal plank shank; braised crispy beef empanada; roasted rosemary heirloom squash soup; a vegetarian mushroom Bolognese.
(Pardon me while I find another napkin.)
No doubt Sous Chef Roger Gowen, Pastry Chef Robyn Wood and the entire team of 30 employees factor into the successful mix here, too. I recently caught up with Kresge to learn more about him and his unique take on the culinary scene and more.
Good Times: What were earliest memories of food and when did you know that creating and presenting food would be something that you wanted to do?
Anthony Kresge: It was something that I had been around my whole life in the kitchen with my grandmother, Gretchen. She just passed six months ago at the age of 90 and left me 300 publications of Gourmet magazine and different cookbooks and such—that’s how much of a foodie she was. All these different recipes dated back to the ’20s. She wrote her own recipes and she was one of those grandmothers that made her own pickles, canned her veggies. I was always around her when she did these things and I showed interest. It wasn’t until I turned 16 that … well, you know, you turn 16 in the Napa Valley and you got to get a job. We had a choice in the Napa Valley. Either you go work at crush, or work in one of these famous restaurants. That was my first summer job—in an Italian restaurant, flipping pizzas. I saw what the chefs were doing and their passion. That really influenced me. I knew then that that was what I was going to do.
What is it about the culinary experience that you love most?
I like the challenge creating dishes that people cannot create at home. I love teaching the passion to my staff and my colleagues. I think the end result is making the customer remember the meal that they have eaten. I love the process from the farmers to the plate and all the hard work that goes into that. Right now, I am working with Skuna Bay salmon (of Vancouver), which is an organically sustainable salmon and backed by the James Beard Foundation. The process of research that goes into a product like that and the cutline of how prestigious that product needs to be to go to the best place in the world, including some of the best chefs—from Denver to New York City to the West Coast—is incredible.
Tell me more.
I mean, you look at that salmon, and it’s gone to the French Laundry. You look at the people that are using the same ingredients across the nation and in the world that you are, and you are kind of a family that is supporting the growth of the livelihood of these small farmers—the mushroom foragers, the fishermen and the harvested, grass-fed, open-range meat. You’re part of a society that keeps those things alive and helps people be aware that there are other things than just fast food and machine-processed foods. I like that we’re all part of a movement that is bringing back the same foods that our ancestors cooked on the farms, the ranches and in their kitchens. So that people can enjoy home cooking.
It must be challenging, though.
Out of the hundreds of thousands of customers that come here, part of the challenge is to maintain my goal, which is to make sure the food is every part or better than the ambiance; that they can walk out of here and say, ‘I am definitely going to come back.’ I want that. I become rich in the satisfaction that people eating our food wlll turn around and tell others that it wasn’t about how much money they spent, it was about how they felt when they left. That is probably, 24 years later, the main reason why I still do this today. And it was really the apprenticeships I had experienced growing up in Napa Valley that catapulted me to going to work 15 years in the wine industry and finally understanding that this was what I wanted to do.
Can you talk about the Shadowbrook menu right now?
We’re still keeping the classics that people have experienced here for generations, but we have cleaned up the classics. The way of eating has changed over the years. We are focusing more on organics and sustainability and innovative cuisine. I love our rooftop garden and I’ve had my hand on every single dish of the menu. If you’ve been coming to Shadowbrook for 30 years, there’s going be some things, such as the prime rib and filet mignon, that you are going to get. However, there is going to be a whole other selection of dishes that are going to excite you.
Some fun questions. Chocolate or vanilla?
Strawberries or raspberries?
Prime rib or salmon?
Red or white wine?
Depends on what time of day it is and what I am eating. But probably red.
Coffee or tea?
One of the most interesting ingredients or foods that you love using?
What most excites you about the culinary scene these days?
I think that the 150 cooking shows on TV right now are a bit distracting and … not the world for people who want to become a chef. What excites me right now are family farms.
Experience Chef Anthony Kresge’s creations at Shadowbrook Restaurant, 1750 Wharf Road, Capitola, 475-1511, shadowbrook-capitola.com.