42 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY march 28-april 3, 2024 www.montereycountyweekly.com In 1999, English chef Marco Pierre White stunned the culinary world by renouncing his hard-won Michelin stars—all three of them. Goran Basarov admires White for his bold action, as well as the other select few chefs who followed suit. The new executive chef at The Quail Lodge & Golf Club has worked in Michelin kitchens and understands. “I don’t want it,” Basarov says of the atmosphere that develops when stars hang overhead. “It was an unnecessarily stressful time for me.” Through his time at fine dining restaurants he has developed his own standard. “I want to have fun and cook what I want to cook,” Basarov explains. What he wants is something familiar and very different. Basarov was born and raised in northern Macedonia and plans to draw on that region’s traditions, as well as from Greece, Croatia and elsewhere—anywhere but France, although he is versed in classic French techniques. “If you go to certain restaurants, you find there is a pattern,” he points out. “We’re going to try to separate ourselves from that. It’s going to be worldly cuisine. If we want to do a mish-mash, we’re going to do that.” Basarov says that one focus will be on seasonally available ingredients, citing farms surrounding the Carmel Valley property, farmers markets and seafood from Monterey Bay. The Quail team also introduced Love Thy Neighbor Wednesdays, a comparatively affordable prix fixe menu that will change every week that is already drawing regulars. “The goal is to introduce locals to my style of cooking,” he says. “How much flavor can we pack onto a plate?” Basarov plans to roll out his menu toward the end of March, first at Covey Grill and then at Edgar’s, the resort’s golf course restaurant. He’s an experienced hand now, but Basarov did not begin his career in the kitchen. He came to the U.S. after college in 2010 and found work in hotel management. But it wasn’t fulfilling enough, so he began to find side gigs at restaurants—first a taqueria, then a pizza joint. “I always cooked at home,” he recalls. “My mom would kick me out of the kitchen: ‘You make a mess.’” The budding chef realized that he thrived in that environment. When given the opportunity to work the line full time, he didn’t hesitate. “I was drawn to the energy of the kitchen,” Basarov says. “Our industry has this weird attractive, sadistic nature to it.” His career took off from there. He landed as executive chef at Balboa Cafe in San Francisco, then joined the team at Michelin-starred Selby’s in Redwood City. It was in that pressure-cooker environment that Basarov rediscovered his culinary soul. He prefers simple, homey dishes, but prepared with masterful technique to develop deep, layered flavors. The problem with Michelin stars, he explains, is that once earned, keeping the honor becomes the purpose of the restaurant. The connection between a kitchen and its guests—that lively and unpredictable bond that keeps a chef grounded—fades in the quest for culinary heights. Not that Basarov plans to ease off. He is demanding, particularly when it comes to sourcing ingredients. It’s just that his goal is more proletarian. “We want people to come out to the restaurant,” he says, meaning area residents as well as club members and resort guests. There are a couple of tourists he is particularly interested in welcoming to the restaurant, however. In June, Basarov’s parents are traveling from Macedonia for a visit. The last time they came, he was at a Cape Cod resort wearing a suit and tie. “They’ve never seen me in my element,” he observes. While Basarov knows they are unprepared for the level of quality at The Quail’s restaurants, he says they are eager for the experience. “My parents are super proud.” Basarov has been patient since he took the helm at the end of December. He has left the menu untouched apart from his Wednesday excursions. That, however, is about to change. “I want to hit the ground running— in a different direction,” he says. “The Quail has backed me up. There’s nothing stopping us.” Covey Grill and Edgar’s Restaurant at The Quail Lodge & Golf Club, 8205 Valley Greens Drive, Carmel. 866-675-1101, quaillodge.com. First course “Fun” is a word Chef Goran Basarov uses often to describe both the dining vibe and the work atmosphere he likes to create. Yet he remains serious when it comes to quality. Egg-stravaganza…We already know there are Easter brunch options and various Easter egg hunts for the kiddos in the area, but Peter B’s Brewpub is throwing an adult (ages 21+) Easter egg hunt. Kick the weekend off with them on Thursday, March 28 from 4-6pm. Get there early to lock in your spot for the hunt, since sign-ups begin at 3pm. Search for eggs containing surprise prizes in the beer garden and enjoy food and drink specials. 2 Portola Plaza, Monterey. 649-2699, portolahotel.com/ dining/peter-bs-brewpub. Kulinary fun…Karnaval Café is celebrating their Carousel Bar on Friday, March 29 from 6-9pm. Enjoy cocktail hour followed by a three-course meal. They will serve up exciting elixirs and spirit-free mocktails so guests can eat and drink to their quirky hearts’ content. Tickets are $50. 145 Main St., Salinas. 998-8026, instagram.com/karnavalsalinas. Paw-ty Time…Head to Scratch Winery on Saturday, March 30 from 2-5pm and bring your furry friends for an afternoon of wine and fun in the sun to benefit Animal Friends Rescue Project. Purchase Easter eggs with surprise gifts inside, all proceeds of which go to AFRP. They will have fur-babies to adopt if you don’t have a furry friend already, or if you are looking for a furry friend for your furry friend. 1 E. Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley. 320-0726, scratchwines. com, animalfriendsrescue.org. Behold Brunch…To those who say brunch is only for weekends, Pacific’s Edge and I say, “You’re wrong.” They now have an elevated brunch menu served seven days a week from 7am-2pm. Enjoy classic pancakes and unique dishes like Point Lobos Benedict with dungeness crab, cioppino, a seared ahi sandwich and much more. Don’t let the day of the week limit your meal options. 120 Highlands Drive, Carmel. 620-1234, hyatt.com. Liquid Gold…Rancho Azul y Oro Olive Farm on the county border near San Miguel earned two gold medals at the prestigious 2024 New York International Olive Oil Competition. Honored oils were the Estate Extra Virgin and the Arbequina Extra Virgin. Medals are nothing new to owners Stuart de Haaff and Kathryn Keeler. The trophy case at Rancho Azul is packed with over 100 medals. 74941 Ranchita Ave., San Miguel. 805-467-9470, ranchoazulyoro. com. By Jacqueline Weixel morsels Send a bite to eatanddrink@mcweekly.com “I want to hit the ground running—in a different direction.” Eat + DrinK Daniel Dreifuss Pop Star Chef Goran Basarov has Michelin talent, but he wants to shed a different light on The Quail. By Dave Faries