LA QUINTA, Calif. – “Food in season tastes the best and has the most nutritional value,” says Jimmy Schmidt, executive chef.
The signature restaurant at La Quinta Resort, Morgan’s in the Desert, is named after
Walter H. Morgan, heir to a San Francisco oyster company. The move to the desert was on the advice of his doctor, leading to W.H. Morgan opening the resort in 1926.
According to La Quinta’s historical information Morgan purchased 1400 acres from the Cahuilla Indians.
“He made friends in Los Angeles with movie stars and thought they might like a private place to relax or rendezvous with paramours, undisturbed by paparazzi,” explained John Healy, restaurant manager of Morgan’s.
The lobby and restaurant are original along with several courtyards. The resort opened with 20 casitas (guestrooms) and in the second year Morgan added more. Today the resort has 796 casitas, along with golf courses, pools, tennis courts and spa. _
Greta Garbo became a regular guest and stayed in a casita a mile from the lobby. At the time there was nothing else around and she could relax “alone.”
Garbo and companion John Gilbert were frequent guests of the property and they also leased a private home on the property, again a mile in distance from the lobby and casitas.
“The Camel (cigarette) jingle, “I’d walk a mile for a Camel,” was inspired by her,” Healy says sharing the story he was told.
Too many celebrities to name also made their way to La Quinta: Betty Davis, Shirley Temple, Clark Gable, Adam Sandler, Samuel L. Jackson; presidents Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan, musicians Reba McIntyre, Neil Diamond and Justin Timberlake; athletes Andre Agassi, Joe Montana and Tiger Woods are among many others.
Besides privacy, guests enjoyed dining in a style that fit the kick back and relax resort environment.
In 2009 La Quinta persuaded Chef Jimmy Schmidt to take over the restaurant, formerly known as Azul, as chef and partner. Schmidt describes his food as approachable contemporary American, with big flavors and an emphasis on farm-to-table local ingredients. _
Well known as the award-winning creator of the Rattlesnake Club restaurants located in Detroit and Denver. In 1991 Schmidt also founded Chefs Collaborative, a non-profit network of chefs, including culinary names like Jacque Pepin, Wolfgang Puck and Mark Miller, using the “power of connections, education and responsible buying decisions” to increase awareness of a sustainable food system.
Author of two cookbooks Cooking for All Seasons, Jimmy Schmidt’s Cooking Class , Chef Schmidt also wrote a weekly cooking column for the Detroit News.
“I got into healthy cooking when I did a cookbook with Marvin Moser, (cardiologist) called Heart Healthy Cooking for all Seasons,” Schmidt said.
He now does a lot of nutritional work including an energy drink called Sip Soar and Adkins indulge line protein wafers.
“We have technology patents in protein bonding, a way to put proteins together. The idea is to mimic texture and viscosity for a sugar wafer cookie filling with protein and fiber instead of carbs, fat and sugar,” he explained.Schmidt brings his long-lived commitment to seasonal, sustainable and healthy food to the kitchen at Morgan’s.
“What we do here is build layers of flavors,” Chef Schmidt says. “We have a new duck dish. The base is fresh honey crisp and granny smith apples julienne to make salads. The duck is brined in an apple cider and ginger mixture.
“Wedges of the same two kinds of apples are caramelized and added to the sauce–a reduction of red wine, apple cider and apple vinegar. The flavors repeat and are intensified with contrasting textures and temperature.”
He also builds flavors with local ingredients such a fig and comte cheese salad, roasted wit h balsamic vinegar and honey or flamed with bittersweet chocolate for dessert.
As the Chef creates, his staff also learns to develop rich flavors.
“Balancing salt is a hard skill to master,” Schmidt commented, “Preface that with I love salt and am allergic to iodized salt.”
He trains his cooks by teaching them to use different kinds of sea salt and seasoned salts such as fennel salt, Aleppo chili salt or porcini salt.
“We make our own,” he says.
They also infuse oils with fennel, turmeric, basil, mushrooms, garlic and others.
“I’m a big fan of roasting. You can roast vegetables in aluminum foil packages, mix in flavored oil, add an appropriate salt and roast in a 400° for 45 minutes to an hour. Let it sit and cool awhile without opening,” he explained.
Schmidt takes full advantage of the deserts bounty; Sweet corn, artichokes, desert grapefruit that are low in acid, artichokes and mangoes are just a few of the ingredients found on his menus.
Local 4H students are sponsored to grow greens and herbs on property gardens.
“They design and plant. The gardeners maintain while the kids are in school. We do Earth Day dinners using their harvest with the parents invited,” Chef Schmidt says.
Wine dinners are another source of inspiration for Schmidt.
“The wine maker sends wines. I taste them and design the dishes around the wine.”
Schmidt thinks he’s probably got another restaurant in him and will continue to write and develop nutritional foods.
Pacific oysters $14
On the half shell, desert grapefruit mignonette granita
Crispy baby Castroville artichokes $12
Almonds and olives, smoked chile aioli
Gingered sweet pea & roasted cipollini risotto $19
Coriander crusted Alaskan halibut $29
Slow braised angus short ribs $26
Ragout of roasted baby beets 7 sweet onions
Twisted smores $8
Chocolate mousse on an almond lace cookie
Topped with marshmallow ice cream
Linda Mensinga was editor of Culinary Trends, a popular boutique magazine, for 15 years where she is 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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