Top (Spa) Chef: Executive Chef Christine Denney of The Oaks at Ojai
Since May of 2006, Executive Chef Christine Denney has brought her cooking expertise to the guests of California’s renowned destination spa, The Oaks at Ojai. We’re pleased to share a little bit more about her in this month’s installment of Top (Spa) Chef.
Chef Denney’s cooking career started long before she stepped into the kitchen at The Oaks, “I got my start from my mother. She had six children, worked most of the time I was growing up, and cooked every night for a family of eight. I don’t think we ever had a store bought cookie or cake, and it was the era of dessert every night,” shared Chef Denney. ” After a detour from her path as an English major, Chef Denney found herself moving from Michigan to Northern California and working in a restaurant developed by a Jungian psychologist widow. “She was located in the old Argonaut Gold Mine Headquarters building. College students worked for room and board and tips. We all lived there and took turns gardening or waiting tables or washing dishes or serving wine. She asked me to start helping her in the kitchen, and I found my preference for ‘back of the house.’ She was a great mentor with a chalkboard menu that was limited but ever-changing. Being in California exposed me to a lot of food that I had never tried.” This connection proved to be Chef Denney’s link to Ojai later in life.
When we asked Chef what she believed was up next in the culinary world she shared, “I like to think that there is a general change in consciousness that is bringing people closer to what nurtures their bodies and their minds and not just their eyes and their taste buds! Personal responsibility for health and wellness, that’s up next! And, that leads me to small plates. Always a great idea, and it provides everyone with an opportunity to experience so many more flavors and combinations. I hope tapas stay around.”
And what does Chef feel has become passe? “Gluttony! Overdone, overly-handled food. I love herbs and spices and pairings of food and wine, but I find that most people want accessibility to realistic meals that don’t require an excessive number of ingredients and hours in the kitchen. Keep it simple, fresh, and as seasonal as possible… foods at their best! Because we are focused on health and wellness, I consider that every plate that goes out to a guest is an example of what we do, and they count on us to lead the way.”
Want a taste of Chef Denney and The Oaks at Ojai at home? Try this Pistachio Tapenade recipe! It’s a great pairing for everything from veggies to poultry!
Serves: 8; Serving Size: 2 Tablespoons; 70 Calories
¾ cup pistachios, coarsely chopped and lightly toasted
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion (1 cup), halved and cut into thin strips
½ cup minced celery
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon fresh Pixie tangerine zest (or orange zest)
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon fresh mint, minced
¼ cup Pixie tangerine juice, simmered and reduced to 2 tablespoons
A splash of Ojai Olive Oil Company Mandarin Oil
Saute the onion in the olive oil over medium heat until caramelized (10-15 minutes). Add the celery and the garlic for the last minute of cooking. Combine all of the ingredients and enjoy with fresh fish or shrimp.