Entering the Park Hyatt Aviara Resort in Carlsbad is a special experience, no matter what time of the year. One of only three resorts in San Diego County to boast a AAA five-diamond designation, this spectacular property is brimming with posh touches that are sure to spoil anyone.
Located inside the main building, the Vivace restaurant is the flagship dining destination that compliments everything the resort strives to deliver, including a meticulous focus on elegance without feeling pretentious. Spacious, tranquil and architecturally stunning, choose to dine on a warm and sunny terrace by day or experience the luxurious surroundings by the fireplace to warm the spirits.
Vivace’s chef de cuisine Jesse Paul started out cooking with his mother and grandmother at an early age, bringing his passion to the kitchen, as well as a unique view of food. “I enjoy teaching my cooks how to respect the products they work with and how to extract the maximum amount of flavor with the least amount of manipulation,” he said.
After graduating from the School of Culinary Arts at The Art Institute of California, Los Angeles, Paul worked as a sous chef at Top of the Cove in La Jolla, where he honed his restaurant skills by covering all kitchen stations. Moving forward, he became tournant chef at L’ Auberge Del Mar—working under executive chef Tom Atkins—where he learned about California’s market-driven cuisine. He then held a position at San Diego’s prominent Star of the Sea and was appointed to executive chef. Paul joined the Park Hyatt Aviara Resort in 2007 and currently oversees day-to-day operations and menu development for the Park Hyatt’s Vivace and California Bistro.
Believing in “letting the ingredients speak,” Paul infuses his own contemporary, California-inspired style into his culinary classics. He emphasizes a refined cuisine that’s accessible and appealing, yet challenges diners to appreciate the clear flavors of Italy by using distinguishable quality ingredients presented with fastidious touches. Each dish melds flavors together without losing the true nature of each component.
Substantial appetizers respect tradition while taking on global influences. The Roasted Kurabuto Pork Belly is enlivened with the peppery nuances of rapini, further complimented by provolone fonduta and intensified by the topping of a farm-fresh egg. Of course, another stronghold to the beginning of your meal is the traditional cured meats and cheeses. “I love the creativity and the passion that this craft brings out in people,” Paul said. “I also enjoy knowing how to cook and playing with my food.”
Meats and fish are treated properly to the wood-burning oven and grill, enhancing the essence of each protein to perfection. “Grilling or roasting our meats adds a unique flavor which I find un-paralleled,” Paul said. A stalwart aficionado of baccalà (dried, salted cod), my favorite seafood entrée is the olive oil-poached Skuna Bay salmon with black fennel, onion crème, baccalà cubes and a micro herb salad.
The main event in the kitchen seems to be an unusually indulgent array of hand-made pastas coupled with curious ingredients. Pairing butternut squash gnocchi with a wild board ragout is daring to say the least, but the smoky earthiness of the meat, in step with the sweet scent of cranberries and the slight saltiness of Pecorino Romano cheese, is truly a dynamic explosion of color, texture and flavors. Equally impressive is Paul’s art of mastering ricotta tortelloni with spinach, peanuts, gold raisins and brown butter.
Getting the bulk of his produce from local farms, Paul does his best to stay true to using seasonal and organic ingredients, explaining that it’s a difficult path to follow. “It takes research, dedication and the nurturing of relationships with local farmers. It’s much more than just saying, ‘Yes, I use sustainable and local produce,’” he explained. “In the end, it is far more rewarding to support the local businessman, keep your guests healthy and maintain the food at its peak.”
The extensive wine list is centered on Italian varietals from recognizable vintners, including Masi Amarone Classico to the rare find of Tenuta dell’ Ornellaia Masseto. “We have something for everyone,” Paul said “Our servers are very knowledgeable about our wines and what will pair best with the food.”
Paul’s passion is on display at the “Pranzo” on Sundays, a deeply traditional lunch event that is a mainstay for families in Italy. Not only are you treated to a memorable meal, but you will enjoy good conversation with family and friends, a necessary part of Italian life.
On his days off, Paul can be seen foraging through local farmers’ markets, cooking, skateboarding, playing music and, most importantly, spending as much time as he can with his wife, children and dog.
This article, by Maria Desiderata Montana, appeared in the April 2013 issue of FINE Magazine