Food & Drink | May 27, 2022 6:00 am

A Night at This Luxury Ranch Comes With a Cookout by One of LA’s Top Chefs

From Wes Avila to Ben Ford, son of Harrison

Alisal Ranch’s California Ranch Cookouts
Alisal Ranch’s California Ranch Cookouts
Sarah Range

We’re not trying to stress you out, but this summer is predicted to be more chaotic and more expensive than ever before. There is good news, though: You live in Southern California. This means whether the monotony of your routine has left you in need of an adventure, stress at work has got you craving spa time or the humdrum of the same boring meals has you in need of a culinary sojourn, you’ll be able to find your fix this summer within a few hours of Los Angeles by car. No sky-high prices for airplane tickets and anxiety-inducing security lines required. 

For our purposes today, and to help you easily add a summer trip to your calendar right now, we’ll be zeroing in on an escape of the culinary variety with Alisal Ranch’s California Ranch Cookouts. Two-and-a-half hours from Los Angeles, in Santa Ynez Valley wine country, the Cookout series sees some of the country’s best chefs partnering with the Alisal culinary team to create exclusive, one-night-only meals. Utilizing the Ranch’s unique cooking instruments (including Santa Maria-style grills, smokers, cowboy cauldrons and a pizza oven built into a vintage horse trailer), chefs create feasts that include proteins, side dishes, salads, desserts and cocktails. And it’s all served al fresco on the Ranch’s rodeo arena.

This year’s California Ranch Cookout summer programming (Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend) is about to begin, and the roster of chefs reads like a who’s-who of the LA culinary world. Seriously, we’re talking cream-of-the-crop, nationally recognized, James Beard Award-winning and -nominated chefs whose one-off meals you’ll get to eat in a beautiful setting. With dates now available throughout summer, pick one soon and make a weekend out of it. 

With 10,500 acres to explore, you’re going to work up an appetite.

Exterior of a Cabin at Alisal Ranch
Exterior of a Cabin at Alisal Ranch
Alisal Ranch

Since the only way into a California Ranch Cookout is as an overnight guest of the hotel on the day of the dinner, you’ll first need to book yourself a room. And if the meal itself isn’t reason enough to do so, consider Alisal’s laundry list of amenities. Across the ranch’s 10,500-acre spread, you’ll find 73 guest cottages, a 6,500-square-foot spa and fitness center, two 18-hole golf courses, six tennis courts, 50 miles of horseback riding trails and a bucolic 100-acre lake for endeavors like paddle boarding and fishing. You’ll also be within minutes of the Denmark-meets-Disneyland town of Solvang, as well as too many wineries to visit during one trip. 

Summer travel plans. Check. 

May 28 — Kicking off the summer series is chef Saw Naing. An alum of West Hollywood’s Ysabel and Beverly Hills’ Bouchon, Naing is chef/partner of Ojai favorite The Dutchess (a bakery, café and Burmese restaurant). A passionate supporter of local farms, the majority of ingredients for his California-centric take on South Asian cuisine come from farms within 50 miles of his restaurant. 

June 7 — Called “the Willy Wonka of meat,” chef Chad Colby is the chef/owner of LA’s Antico Nuovo and Bari restaurants. He opened Nancy Silverton’s chi SPACCA as executive chef and subsequently landed the restaurant on numerous “best” lists, got nominated for Best Chef West by the James Beard Foundation, was named Los Angeles Chef of the Year by Time Out Magazine and had his tomahawk pork chop named the No. 1 dish on Angeleno magazine’s list of LA’s top 101 dishes.

June 14 — Chef Suzanne Goin and chef David Lentz are an LA culinary power couple. Goin, chef/owner behind LA institutions A.O.C. and Larder Baking Co., has won multiple James Beard Awards, published two acclaimed cookbooks, and is behind the culinary offerings at The Hollywood Bowl. Lentz was the chef/owner of the long-running Hungry Cat restaurant in Hollywood. 

June 21 — For pure barbecue, this night brings together buzzy barbecue pop-up purveyors chef Danny Gordon and Nick Priedite. Chef Gordon is the owner of LA’s Flatpoint Barbecue, whose Central Texas barbecue pop-ups sell out hundreds of pounds of meat whenever they open. Pitmaster Priedite is the man behind Priedite Barbecue, a California ranchero-inspired pop-up behind Bell’s restaurant in Los Alamos. 

July 12 —  Chef Wes Avila is one of LA’s most exciting chefs. The James Beard semi-finalist for Best Chef West is the chef/founder of the acclaimed Guerrilla Tacos and the author of the cookbook, Guerrilla Tacos: Recipes from the Streets of LA. More recently, Avila opened Chinatown’s Angry Egret Dinette, which is currently a finalist in the James Beard Foundation’s Best New Restaurant category. 

July 26 — Chef Jason Paluska heads Santa Barbara’s most lauded restaurant, The Lark. Adept at working closely with Santa Barbara’s farmers, fisherman, ranchers and winemakers, his distinctly California cuisine highlights fresh, seasonal, local ingredients and has been awarded a Michelin Guide Plate Distinction.

August 6 — A master of modern, live-fire barbecue, chef Daniel Castillo is chef/owner of San Juan Capistrano’s Heritage Barbecue. In 2021, the restaurant received both Bib Gourmand status from the Michelin Guide and the distinction of being named one of The Los Angeles Times 101 Best Restaurants.

September 3 — Chef Timothy Hollingsworth spent 13 years at The French Laundry, including four as chef de cuisine (it’s here he won the James Beard Foundation’s Rising Star Chef of the Year Award). Now, he’s chef/owner of one of LA’s best restaurants, Otium. Not afraid to have fun with his culinary skills, he’s also behind C.J. Boyd’s fried chicken stand and CHAIN, a chain restaurant-inspired pop-up. 

If you need a little more lead time, the fall line-up is equally promising — plus, visiting then will offer cooler temperatures and put you closer to harvest season, when the region’s wineries gather their grapes. Plan your stay on September 24 and you’ll dine on the cuisine of Ben Ford, chef and author of the cookbook, Taming the Feast: Ben Ford’s Field Guide to Adventurous Cooking. Ford, son of Harrison, mixes his fine dining background (he’s an alum of Alice Water’s Chez Panisse) with his passion for hand-crafted and primal cooking mechanisms — so you’ll be in for a memorable meal. Closing out the series on October 1 is chef Brandon Cunningham, sustainable cooking advocate and executive chef of The Green O at The Resort at Paws Up (another legendary American ranch hotel).