“Quality goes hand in hand with all the different aspects of being local and sustainable” — Traci Des Jardins
MANZANITA RISES TO THE TOP
Legendary chef Traci Des Jardins heads The Ritz-Carlton Highlands’ stunning restaurant.
WRITTEN BY JENNIFER BUSHMAN
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE RITZ-CARLTON HIGHLANDS, LAKE TAHOE
Morphing from a timber farm to one of the north shore’s finest dining experiences, the location of Traci Des Jardins’ Lake Tahoe restaurant is steeped in local food tradition. It was in just this place, more than100 years ago, that loggers and winter sports enthusiasts packed their tins with bread, salted fish, and dried meats. The simple lunch provided fuel and a much-needed break for those working and playing on the mountain.
Traci Des Jardins knows firsthand the importance of partaking in sustenance in this impressive landscape. In addition to being an accomplished chef, Des Jardins is a proficient and enthusiastic skier. She has been visiting the region for decades. So when Ritz-Carlton managers approached her to develop its flagship restaurant in the new Ritz-Carlton Highlands hotel just outside of Truckee, she jumped at the chance.
After months of anticipation, in December 2009 Tahoe residents and visitors got their first look at Des Jardins’ vision: Manzanita. The restaurant is nestled within an exceptional resort (the area’s first five-star property) that capitalizes on outstanding views and incorporates a design that is reminiscent of such historical Lake Tahoe spots as the Thunderbird Lodge. The color scheme is drawn from the mountains that surround it.With rock accents and a 55-foot granite fireplace in the guest lobby, the $300 million Ritz-Carlton Highlands takes visitors back to Lake Tahoe’s former grandeur.
Developers tapped into the genius of one of Northern California’s most acclaimed chefs to oversee the restaurant. Des Jardins began her food history on a farm in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley, about 45 miles west of Fresno, where her father grew sugar beets, cotton, and rice.
After dropping out of college, she began a culinary career that has taken her through some of the most acclaimed kitchens. In 1997, she opened Jardinière, where her French-California cuisine developed a following that endures today. In the meantime, she’s won virtually every important cooking award, including the James Beard Foundation Award for best chef of the region. And she even defeated renowned New York City chef Mario Batali on the Food Network’s Iron Chef America.
It is this style paired with her understanding of Lake Tahoe that is reflected on the plate at Manzanita.
“The menu is influenced by the area,” she says. “There’s always an influence of place in whatever I do. This will be food that is to be consumed primarily by people who have been exercising a lot. So that will have a bearing on the composition of our menu.”
SHARING THE SPOTLIGHT
Des Jardins brought an important part of her team with her. Reylon Agustin is the young, energetic chef de cuisine at Manzanita. He is the perfect choice for the job. He worked his way through the kitchen at Des Jardins’ flagship restaurant Jardinière. On his rare breaks from work in the city, he would pack up the car and head to his family’s home in Round Hill on Lake Tahoe’s south shore.
Des Jardins and Agustin say the essence of Manzanita is sophisticated food within a casual, elegant setting. They both believe that the food should be as local as possible.
“Quality goes hand in hand with all the different aspects of being local and sustainable,” she says. “With local and sustainable you are creating a community around you; you are supporting growers and farmers and producers who are in your area, so you create little economic centers that support the immediate surroundings.”
They admit that they have a lot to learn about what is locally Reno- Tahoe. But Agustin has already frequented the farmers’ markets in Tahoe City and Truckee. He plans to gather ingredients from both, visit farms throughout the area, and even offer a farmers’ market cooking class series in the restaurant this spring.
It is an exciting time for food in our region.With great Lake Tahoe chefs such as Des Jardins and Agustin; Mark Estee of Moody’s, Baxter’s, and Burger Me in Truckee; Billy McCollough of Dragonfly in Truckee; and Doug Dale ofWolfdale’s in Tahoe City leading the charge, it is only a matter of time before people will come to the area for more than just the beautiful mountain scenery. They will come for the beautiful and dynamic scenery on the plate.
Manzanita is located at the Ritz-Carlton Highlands, above Northstar ski resort in Truckee. It is open for lunch and dinner. For reservations, call 530-562-3000. For details on the menu, visit Ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/LakeTahoe/Dining/manzanita/Menu.
Jennifer Bushman has written three cookbooks under her Kitchen Coach™ series and is a James Beard nominee. She has a syndicated cooking show and has made national television appearances on the Today Show, Life and Style, and Tony Danza.