LA QUINTA, Calif.- “The chefs had the best jokes, cars and girls,” said Chef Vaughn, 29, about why he became a chef. Twenty6 Chef de cuisine Michael Vaughn has been cooking for 15 years. The restaurant is part of La Quinta Resort in La Quinta, Calif., about 20 minutes east of Palm Springs.
After moving to Arizona from Chicago as a teenager, family friends opened 5& Diner in Glendale, Ariz. Vaughn got a job helping out in the kitchen and never left. He worked at resorts such as the Boulders in Carefree, Ariz., the Westin Kierland in Scottsdale, Ariz. and a private golf club in Deer Lodge, Mont.
Vaughn studied at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena, Calif. He also worked for chefs Bradley Ogden, Michael Schlow and James Boyce. “I tribute my palate to Chef Ogden. He does American food but way elevated,” he said.
For his menu at Twenty6, local purveyors in Temecula or Oceanside are among the chef’s favorites. Vaughn uses whatever comes into season and loves experimenting with produce. “I just got some Momotoro tomatoes. They’re juicy, delicious; better than heirlooms.”
He’s also playing with ghost chilies. “They’re the hottest peppers. Just a little in a dish and it adds a twist of flavor different from habanero,” he said.
Vaughn makes much of the food for Twenty6 from scratch including pickles, bread, catsup and their own blend of maple syrup.
Cereal ice cream is an invention created from a childhood memory. “Remember how you’d tilt the bowl to drink the sweetened milk left after eating the cereal?” he asked. Vaughn uses milk infused with cereal such as Fruit Loops to make his own ice cream. “It sells well and creates a conversation.”
TV dinners are another retro item. Specially made ceramic plates, divided into the familiar sections hold his versions of meatloaf, sous-vide turkey, beef stroganoff with mashed potatoes and green peas.
The chef’s buffalo wings are getting known. “The sauce is kicky, sweet and spicy. We serve it with cool coleslaw. The smooth blue cheese mousse is another nice contrast with the crunchy wings,” Vaughn said.
Another hit on his menu is the grilled cheese sandwich. The sandwich is the iconic American cheese on buttered Weber’s bread. He serves it with tomato soup that’s not your mother’s tomato soup. He makes his with grilled tomatoes, basil, smoked salt and elephant garlic chips.
Reaching local diners is a personal goal for Vaughn. Guests have told him they came in on the recommendation of friends. “I chose Facebook to reach the most people after researching social media,” he said. Making connections is hard with a transient audience but he relishes the feedback he gets from a growing number of fans.
Vaughn’s outgoing personality would be an easy fit for a TV reality show. He’s not interested in Top Chef. He’s heard too much from his friend Casey Thompson who garnered fan appreciation several seasons ago on the show. “She told me they bait you and pair you with people you don’t like to create drama. They provide alcohol and wake you up at night for interviews. The camera guy may tell you what another contestant said just to catch you talking bad about each other,” he said.
Vaughn admires Chef Gordon Ramsey. “I have great respect for his cooking skills,” he said. He looks past the yelling as just for TV and would even consider being on Hell’s Kitchen.
Twenty6 is named for the year La Quinta opened, 1926. The resort now boasts 796 casitas, suites and villas, five golf course, 41 pools, citrus trees, and nine food outlets. Vaughn plans to change menus at the resort’s Mexican restaurant, Adobe Grill.
He’ll also makeover one of the clubhouse restaurants into a burger bar. “We’ll grind everything fresh ourselves; beef, salmon, turkey; and serve them with homemade pickles and buns.”
When he’s not working Vaughn likes to get out of the dessert and dines in Newport Beach or San Diego. “I like Haven’s Gastropub in Orange. He has the same passion for food I do,” he commented. His all-time favorite place to eat? At home with Mom.
Rueben Benedict - corned beef, kraut, swiss cheese, 1000 island sauce $15
El Matador Benedict - bilboa chorizo, guacamole, pico de gallo, blistered jalapeno $16}Brioche French Toast - Devonshire cream, grand marnnier, mixed berry compote $15
Grilled cheese & tomato - American Cheese, vintage Weber’s bread $15
Prime rib French dip – horseradish cream, provolone cheese, au–jus $16
The Joe burger – 10oz beef patty, avocado, bacon, pepper jack, potato roll $18
Swordfish picatta – braised Napa cabbage, bacon, caper berries $28
Filet Oscar – 8oz filet, lump crab, fingerling potatoes, asparagus, béarnaise $32
Peanut butter mousse cake – toasted peanuts $7
Reverse soda floats – orange “crush” creamsicle $7
Snickers cheesecake $7
La Quinta Resort & Club
49-499 Eisenhower Drive
La Quinta, CA 92253
Linda Mensinga was editor of Culinary Trends for 15 years, now a contributing writer. If you have a great restaurant, recipe or food you’d like to share please send an email. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or Linda@culinarytrends.net.
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