We caught up with Daisy Ryan of Bell’s, Los Alamos, to learn more about what she and her husband Greg are up to, and to get a killer summer salad recipe that you’re going to want to try. We first met Daisy and Greg when they spent a few whirlwind years in Austin, with Greg as GM at Jeffrey's and Daisy as the assistant beverage director for McGuire Moorman's seven restaurants.
Fast-forward to today, where we find them helming a talented team in the dynamic culinary and creative community of Los Alamos, CA.
KK: Tell us about your restaurant, Bell’s in Los Alamos, CA.
Daisy: My husband Greg and I own a restaurant on the central coast of California in a little town called Los Alamos, right in the middle of the Santa Barbara wine country. It’s a French bistro that executes classics and pairs them up with the great California produce.
KK: You both have a fine dining background—yet Bell's feels decidedly different. How'd you get here?
Daisy: Greg and I met in New York, working at Thomas Keller’s Per Se, then we spent some time in high-end hotels in Los Angeles. After that, we worked with Larry and Tommy at McGuire Moorman Hospitality in Austin. We had been talking about opening our own restaurant for ten years, and not until we had our son, Henry, did we finally do it. We wanted to move closer to family (my family is from the Santa Ynez Valley and Greg’s family is from Oregon) and we had always wanted a reason to move to this beautiful area. When we got here we said, “This area reminds us of Burgundy, Lyon, etc. Why aren't there any bistros?” So we opened one.
KK: Tell us about the restaurant and creative community there—from the outside, it looks pretty special.
Daisy: The community here is amazing. The restaurant / hospitality / wine industry are all tightly bonded—you feel it with all of the smaller owner-operated establishments. It’s amazing to drive to a farmstead every morning and pick up the greens that we need for service. We’re fortunate to have someone like Stephanie Mutz, the premiere sea urchin farmer, live in our town. She personally delivers our Santa Barbara Hope Ranch mussels and our sea urchin. We feel very lucky to have been welcomed here with such open arms.
KK: This salad looks amazing. No joke though, we had to google Jidori chicken. Can you tell us about it?
Daisy: Thank you! We take our salads very seriously. Some have suggested that the constructs of our ever-changing salads have gotten such positive reactions because of my background in cocktails and beverages. Building a great salad can have the same ideology as building a great cocktail. I’m always trying to balance sweetness, acidity and texture. It’s important that a dressing doesn’t overpower the rest of the ingredients, and that it’s equally distributed throughout the salad. The approach is similar to how I built cocktails for restaurants.
Jidori chicken is a free-range bird that is commonly found in Japan, and has now been raised and nurtured for more than a decade in the Central Valley of California. While there are other chicken breeds that have become even more hyper-local, Jidori chicken fits our ‘bistro’ price point, and we joke that it’s our version of a Bresse chicken (a famous chicken breed from the Bresse region in France). We serve it with green and red lettuce from Finely Farms’. Owners, Chris and Joanna, are local farmers who help provide more than 70% of our produce. We get different types of stone fruit from Burkdoll Farms at the market every week—this week we have nectarines, plums and pluots. We add Rancho Gordo flageolet beans for a little more protein and some pistachios for crunch. The dressing is a sweet/mustardy vin that compliments the chicken and the beans while going hand-in-hand with stone fruit. It’s one of those energizing dishes you’ll find satisfying but we won’t need to roll you out of the restaurant.
KK: It’s summer, what are you having to drink with this salad?
Daisy: I am slightly biased, but I would be drinking a chilled glass of Beaujolais. Gamay is the best lunchtime wine, and it has been great to see so many more winemakers in the area start to plant and develop more Gamay and chilled red-style wines.
KK: For those of us who aspire to keep it simple but make it special, do you have any tips for bringing elements of fine dining into the everyday?
Daisy: Great question! It starts with finding things that are made with care—whether it’s the produce you use or the equipment/holloware you find that has been designed to last. While it can seem like expense informs importance, we’ve seen over and over again that if you cut corners and go with something sub-par, you’ll end up disappointed and buying more of it. We invest in things that matter, and we take far better care of these things because we appreciate what they are and where they came from.
KK: We miss you here in Austin. What do you miss most?
Daisy: The energy and entrepreneurial spirit of the town is something Greg and I really miss. We were just back in Austin for a friend’s wedding. It was great to see old friends and visit our favorite restaurants. We just felt an energy that you can’t really find in New York or Los Angeles—this bootstrap mentality that is super-inspiring. It really helped reinvigorate us for when we returned to our own restaurant. Austin is such a special place, and we feel very fortunate that we were able to be there when we were.
Stone Fruit & Roast Chicken Salad
Daisy Ryan of Bell's Los Alamos
- 2 Chicken Breasts (we use Jidori Chicken)
- 3 Mixed Stone Fruit
- 4 Heads of Little Gem and Red Oak Leaf Lettuce
- 4 oz. Clothbound Cheddar (or any aged hard cheddar)
- 1 cup Pistachios, toasted and chopped
- 1 cup Dried Flageolet Beans (or small white beans) - Soak beans overnight
- 3 tablespoons Chopped Parsley for garnish
- Handful of Sunflower Sprouts on each salad for garnish
- 3 tablespoons Shallot, minced
- 1/4 cup Dijon Mustard
- 1/2 cup Whole Grain Mustard
- 1/4 cup Honey
- 1 teaspoon Salt
- 1 cup Olive Oil
1/4 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
Preheat oven to 375°F. Season chicken breasts with salt pepper and olive oil and roast in oven on a roasting rack for 25 minutes or until done. Allow to cool at room temperature and then shred and season with more olive oil and salt and pepper. Put in refrigerator and allow to cool
Meanwhile cover pre-soaked beans with water by two inches and add three tablespoons salt bring to a boil and then turn the flame down as low as it will go and simmer beans for approximately 30 minutes or until creamy. When finished drain beans, spread on a sheet tray and allow to cool then coat with olive oil.
Make vinaigrette by adding all ingredients to a mixing bowl except for olive oil. Then while whisking slowly stream in olive oil to emulsify vinaigrette.
Crumble cheese into pebble size chunks and portion stone fruit by halving, removing pits and slicing into 1/8 inch wedges.
Add all ingredients to a large bowl, toss and the top with sunflower sprouts and chopped parsley.
*recipe note: The salad dressing recipe will yield enough dressing for plenty of salads. You can keep in the fridge for up to one week.