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A warm bed for winter produce

Risotto is one of those adaptable dishes that can carry a wide range of flavors and ingredients. That was Jon Benson’s thinking when he added it to his late fall/early winter menu at the Californian restaurant in the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach, California. The risotto can change as “our chefs hit the farmers markets and see what’s coming out of the ground that day, or choose the best from our two boutique produce suppliers,” says Benson, who is the director of food and beverage for the hotel.

In November, the risotto featured mushrooms, wild scallions and artichokes, but now it’s transitioning into a cozy vehicle for roasted root vegetables, various onions, kale and multi-colored cauliflower. “I like the limits of seasonality. It challenges my team to work with what’s available and short-lived,” he adds.

Although the Californian restaurant has a commitment to farm-to-fork sourcing, it’s more about being a “California-rooted” restaurant than featuring all local ingredients. “We try to stick to a 100-mile radius but sometimes that can make you a victim of circumstance,” notes Benson. Hyatt’s new system-wide directive is “food thoughtfully sourced”—a philosophy that places “care of farming” as a top priority. “We’re seeking farmers and ranchers who care passionately about producing food. That’s more important than where it’s raised,” he claims.

That thinking extends to seafood and meat as well as fruits and vegetables. For a trout dish currently on the menu, Benson is sourcing wild-raised farmed rainbow trout. “My vendor is providing the gold standard in farm-raised fish. The trout are raised in a low-density environment very much like their natural state—10 percent fish to 90 percent water,” he explains. “A typical density is the opposite—90 percent fish in 10 percent water.”

The availability of great product has waned due to overfishing, Benson adds, but this trout is a very good value, very sustainable and very tasty. The Californian restaurant is featuring the trout grilled and served with stewed cannellini beans, Smith Farm’s tomatoes, watercress and hazelnut vinaigrette.

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