For years Lifestyle has featured the culinary expressions of our community by showcasing the work of local restaurant chefs. These chefs have dedicated their lives to the craft of culinary perfection in both fine and casual dining, and we’re honored that our magazine has served as a canvas of their creativity. To celebrate these chef’s achievements and years of commitment to our area’s evolving culinary scene, we’ve gone through the archives and picked some of our favorite features from each chef. We hope you will also enjoy getting to know these artists a little better as they’ve answered some questions about their craft.

Elaine Dakessian

How long have you been developing recipes for Lifestyle?
About six or seven years.

What is your greatest culinary achievement?
I started cooking as a personal chef for private clients in 2000. I now have four chefs that work under me. We cater everything from beautiful, intimate dinners to events of over a thousand. Recently, along with my new partner, Sue Sa, I have opened a Latin- inspired tapas and grill, Left of Center.

What genre of food do you enjoy cooking most and why?
I enjoy Mediterranean and Latin-inspired cuisine; foods from Spain, Italy, and Greece, as well as dishes from the heart of Mexico and into South America.

What is it about being a chef you find most rewarding?
I love entertaining and making people happy.

When it comes to food culture, how has Visalia changed since you started cooking here?
Visalia has grown tremendously over the last 10 years, offering some great places to eat, a variety of ethnicities, farmer’s markets, and the downtown has maintained its vibrancy. We have the best downtown anywhere in the valley.

What is your favorite dish you’ve created for Lifestyle?
A few years ago I was able to honor my father, who was a great cook, and feature the one dish I always asked for when I visited him in later years, lamb and rigatoni with burned butter.

Other than your own restaurant, what is your preferred spot to dine in Tulare County?
I have always enjoyed the variety the Vartanians offer in their three restaurants. I have huge respect for their standard of cooking and their dedication to excellence. My new favorite is Sushi Kuu.

After a long day of cooking for others, what is your go-to dish at home?
My go to in a hurry is tacos.

If you were forced to pick another career, what would it be?
Forensic science. I used to work in a morgue and I think I would find it very rewarding to solve the mysteries surrounding what happens to people.

Ryan Lucas

How long have you been developing recipes for Lifestyle?
Three or four years.

What is your greatest culinary achievement?
Perfecting fresh pasta.

What genre of food do you enjoy cooking most and why?
Italian. Because it’s in my blood.

What is it about being a chef you find most rewarding?
If you are a chef, no matter how good of a chef you are, it’s not cooking for yourself; the joy is in cooking for others.

When it comes to food culture, how has Visalia changed since you started cooking here?
It’s definitely become more progressive.

What is your favorite dish you’ve created for Lifestyle?
It’s actually my last submission, the Duck Ramen. Few people do ramen in Visalia, so I thought somebody should.

Other than your own restaurant, what is your preferred spot to dine in Tulare County?
Davorn’s Place. It’s definitely the best Thai food I’ve ever eaten in California.

After a long day of cooking for others, what is your go-to dish at home?
Two Taco Bell bean burritos.

If you were forced to pick another career, what would it be?
Hair stylist.

James Jessen

How long have you been developing recipes for Lifestyle?
I did their first culinary issue, but I can’t remember how long ago that was.

What is your greatest culinary achievement?
To have shared our passion for food with people through restaurants that have stayed popular and relevant for some time now.

What genre of food do you enjoy cooking most and why?
For sure Italian – simple Italian with quality ingredients speaks for itself. You can make fabulous dish with minimal ingredients.

What is it about being a chef you find most rewarding?
The joy that you see on people’s faces when you have gone beyond their expectations; when you have really hit that mark.

When it comes to food culture, how has Visalia changed since you started cooking here?
I think trends change much quicker with the TV shows, challenges, and celebrity chefs. That influences everywhere. Diners are more educated today.

What is your favorite dish you’ve created for Lifestyle?
The Spicy Shellfish Cioppino.

Other than your own restaurant, what is your preferred spot to dine in Tulare County?
El Tarasco

After a long day of cooking for others, what is your go-to dish at home?
Smart chicken roasted in the barbecue. Simply use salt, pepper, and 75 minutes later, you’ve got crispy, juicy perfection.

If you were forced to pick another career, what would it be?
Hand-building fine furniture.

David Vartanian

How long have you been developing recipes for Lifestyle?
One year.

What is your greatest culinary achievement?
I’m always trying to improve, so I’m still working at it.

What genre of food do you enjoy cooking the most?
Comfort food. Everyone always seems to be pleased with it.

What is it about being a chef you find most rewarding?
Pleasing people who come into our restaurants and satisfying their expectations.

When it comes to food culture, how has Visalia changed since you started cooking here?
With all of the cooking shows and food magazines, people are exposed more than ever to new ideas. In Visalia, we’re seeing a variety of unique flavors and a new sense of culinary passion.

What is your favorite dish you’ve created for Lifestyle?
Heirloom Tomato Salad with Burrata. The local tomatoes we have here in the summer are as good as it gets.

Other than your own restaurant, what is your preferred spot to dine in Tulare County?
I don’t have just one preferred spot. I like to go to as many different restaurants as I can and enjoy the camaraderie and good food that they offer.

After a long day of cooking for others, what is your go-to dish at home?
A simple grilled prime steak and good glass of wine. Great company makes it even better.

If you were forced to pick another career, what would it be?
A carpenter. That was my dream job as a kid.