By Nancy Ransohoff
CHEF JOHN DOWNEY AND HIS WIFE LIZ have run their cozy, elegant and award-winning restaurant, Downey’s, for going on 30 years, and the State-Street gem is still going strong.
An acclaimed chef, Downey spotlights local organic fruits and veggies, sustainable locally-caught seafood and naturally raised meats and poultry. Here he shares ten faves that he looks forward to every spring, although he admits, “Some are actually available throughout much of the year; we’re in Santa Barbara after all!”
First wild-caught king salmon. Particularly if we have one of those very rare seasons when they come into Santa Barbara waters. I usually feature this in our Celebration of Spring dinner in May.
Early California peaches. I love peaches!
Fava beans. The very first beans are the very best—sweet and tender. I grew up with favas that my father grew back in England (they’re known as broad beans there), and we never removed the little “jacket” that surrounds the actual bean. The jacket is part of the broad bean experience for me; I serve them just so, tossed with butter, shallots and parsley.
New potatoes. As a kid, I used to look forward so much to those first potatoes. We never peeled them, just rubbed off most of the skin with our fingers under running water.
Spring lamb. I sometimes serve lamb with two other seasonal favorites…fresh morels and English peas. A classic combination.
Young cauliflowers from Fairview Gardens are a wonderful spring vegetable. For a change of pace, use them in a velvety creamy cauliflower soup finished off with a little freshly grated Meyer lemon zest.
Tarragon sits quietly all winter and sprouts forth in the spring. Try mixing chopped tarragon with butter, salt and pepper and slide it between the skin and breast meat of a lovely small roasting chicken.
Rhubarb! My father would harvest it from his garden and bring it straight into the kitchen where my mother would make a not-too-sweet pie. At Downey’s, we make a rhubarb tart with almond crust and serve it with our own ice cream, usually made with Tom Shepherd’s strawberries.
Follow these topics: Feature Stories