David Vartanian

chef & owner of The Vintage Press in Visalia

“I grew up doing this — it is a part of who I am and I love to make sure that people are satisfied. I enjoy the traditional dishes that we have been making for over 50 years and, at the same time, always am looking to add new twists but keep the menu stable and yet exciting. What an amazing privilege to be entrusted into peoples’ memorable events and getting to do what I’ve always known and what I have always loved.”

What is your favorite dish or cuisine to prepare?
Whatever YOU like the most. I don’t have a favorite; I like it all! I just want whoever I am fixing it for to enjoy it the most and then I enjoy it the most!

If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
Is there anything else?!

Camilo Hernandez

chef at Bistro di Bufala in Visalia

Originally from Tijuana, Mexico, Camilo discovered his love of cooking while cooking for his three younger brothers, starting at age 12. Camilo has been a chef for 20 years, lived in Visalia for 14 years, been a chef at Bistro di Bufala (formerly Tazzaria) for 13 years, and has contributed his talent to Lifestyle since 2020.

What is your favorite dish or cuisine to prepare?
Chicken Marsala.

If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
I would be an event planner.

James Jessen

chef & owner of Bistro di Bufala | Tazz Coffee | The Butcher Cafe | Glick’s and Company Meat Market in Visalia

James has been the chef/owner of multiple restaurants in the Central Valley for more than 30 years. His passion for culinary arts has created an eclectic spread of dishes and has inspired patrons for decades; for nearly two decades, James has shared his talent with readers of Lifestyle Magazine, which was first published in 2003.

What is your favorite dish or cuisine to prepare?
My favorite dish is a perfectly roasted chicken.

If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
A custom furniture builder.

Karl Merten

executive chef at Visalia Country Club

Growing up in a food service family, Karl worked summers at The Gourmet Plate, his parents’ delicatessen in San Francisco, and in high school started washing dishes at his aunt’s restaurants, Kaffee Barbara, in Walnut Creek and Lafayette. “My Aunt Elizabeth is a masterful chef. Nothing escaped her critical eye on the cook’s line.” After college, Karl was promoted to dinner service chef, followed by four years at Butterfield Brewing Company in Fresno’s Tower District. In 1995, Karl and wife Kim opened Café 225 California Bar and Grill on Main Street in Visalia; a catastrophic building fire ended the 23-year run. Chef Karl started a new chapter, joining the Visalia Country Club in October 2019.

What is your favorite dish or cuisine to prepare?
Chicken piccata and marsala are fast and flavorful favorites of my family.

If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
Having received a degree in farm management (I’m taking the long way into production agriculture), I originally wanted to pursue that field. I also like property appraisal and management…. I probably would have gone in that direction.

Bryant Murphy

While growing up, Sunday dinners after church were the best part of Bryant’s week. Sometimes the meal would be out; sometimes the meal would be at grandma’s house. One thing was always the same: food brought the whole family together, and that is his favorite part of being a chef. A native of Woodlake, Bryant was introduced to the kitchen at a young age and pursued the professional chef path five years ago.

What is your favorite dish or cuisine to prepare?
A three-hour smoked tri tip, with mac and cheese and jalapeño coleslaw sides.

If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
I don’t know what I’d be. I’ve given it thought and can’t come up with anything!

Tommy Montalvo

chef at Monet's in Exeter

Tommy has been a chef for eight years, working with some of the most talented chefs in the area. Over the years, he has learned to appreciate and respect the produce readily available throughout the Central Valley, which lets him cook with the seasons, creating from the fresh items that he can locally source. Tommy is new this year to contributing to Lifestyle’s Food feature.

What is your favorite dish or cuisine to prepare?
I feel the most at home with any type of pasta. To me, it’s a blank canvas that can be as complex or as simple as you want; it just depends on how you build your flavors with the ingredients you have at your disposal — sometimes the most unexpected flavor combinations can result in an amazing dish.

If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
I’ve always been intrigued by mixology, not only because of the artistic side, but also learning about different alcohols and where they come from is fascinating to me.

Tate Darwin

chef at Cellar Door in Visalia

Tate Darwin grew up in Visalia and developed an interest in food and cooking. One of his earliest jobs was cooking at the Vintage Press, which cemented his passion for the hospitality industry. He studied at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, N.Y. During that time, he learned how to tend bar and make artisan cocktails at various bars in New York. He moved back to Visalia and worked running various bars and cooking until he became the bar manager and executive chef of Cellar Door, where he is today.

What is your favorite dish or cuisine to prepare?
I have always loved the challenge of finding ways to cook local fresh, in-season produce in new and interesting ways.

If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
I would continue to study and create pre-Prohibition-style cocktails.

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