DEL MAR — When Brandon Fortune says he likes to use as many local products as possible for his menu at L’Auberge Del Mar’s Kitchen 1540, he isn’t kidding.
The new executive chef worked with The Wheel in Leucadia to create stoneware that helps make some of his signature dishes, such as shrimp and grits, that much more artistic.
But when necessary, he imports ingredients to make the food that much more authentic as well.
Fortune was among 20 chefs interviewed for the position and one of 12 chosen for tastings. “We were very careful,” Robert Harter, director of sales and marketing, said. “We wanted a chef who could match the brand at L’Auberge.
“Brandon’s very approachable, as is his food,” he said. “His personality is reflected on his plates.”
Fortune joined the resort in February, replacing Scott Dolbee, but just launched his new menu earlier this month.
He describes his cooking as modern American with an upscale Southern influence. Nearly every item comes with a story and perhaps a few personal comments.
For example, he served his shrimp and grits to woo the woman who would eventually become his wife.
His local hydroponic gem lettuces with spiced pecans, tart apples and compressed jicama feature fried, green tomatoes — not a surprising ingredient given that he hails from Atlanta, Ga.
“I don’t really like other tomatoes,” he said.
“I think beets taste like dirt, but I like them,” he said. So they are part of his cold-smoked trout with black walnuts, a chive-potato cake and feathered horseradish, an appetizer “goes from the dirt, to the ground to the water.”
The asparagus with grilled wild ramps — part of the onion family — he describes as “pretty much spring in a bowl,” while the still smoking scallops … literally “are one of our more perky dishes.”
Fortune used his grandmother’s recipe to create his bread pudding, which he tops with orange creamsicle ice cream.
Fortune, who now calls Carlsbad home, said he also taps into history, fashion, music and movies when formulating new culinary creations.
He was trained at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Atlanta, honed his skills in five-star resorts such as Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta and The Grand Del Mar in San Diego and briefly owned Aquamoree, a tapas restaurant in La Jolla.
While at Kitchen 1540 diners should ask Fortune to stop by their table to share a back story or two about the food they are eating. Guys contemplating a marriage proposal may even want to order the shrimp and grits to go.