Chef Ben Talks About The New Menu 

The menus at the Par Lounge and Deck and The Oaks Grille have been revamped and they now have a more definitive “California” menu, effective this month. Ramona native Chef Ben Peterson is very familiar with this cuisine, having learned his culinary art in California and he enjoys the flavors and ingredients here. He also spent time learning his craft in New Orleans.

Meet the Chef - Ben Peterson

We sat down with Chef Ben to explore the details that led to the new menu choices.

What is the reason behind the new menu?

When a guest comes in and doesn’t need to see a menu because they already know what they want, it says two things: the menu is old, and we have loyal guests. In seven years here, this will be the first major menu revision, and it will solve several issues. The biggest of course, will be identity, to separate ourselves and our food from other restaurants in Ramona. Being from this town, and more so this state, our food will have a more “California” feel to it. We’ve also tried to just bring the food to a more modern place. We aren’t striving to be fancy or show off our culinary chops to any extremes, but there is a place in between, called “relevance.”

                Employee morale is also a factor. A change is welcome and makes it fun for the staff to see and try new things, and be excited and proud of what they are serving. It makes it easier to come to work and do their job.

 What will the guest experience be?                       

                As a local, our dining options are limited to fast food, pizza, Mexican food and everything else. The “everything else” becomes a conversation inside your head on what you want to eat: Do I want a burger from here? A steak from there? Pasta from them? Or pasta from there? Our menu is designed to take “us” out of that debate, and make us a stand-alone choice. So, if you choose pasta from The Oaks Grille, it’s going to be different, and delicious. Hopefully you leave here and say, “I didn’t think that would be as good as it was.” Or, “That was the best pasta I’ve had in a while.” If you come to the Par Lounge and have drinks, our appetizers are going to be part of the conversation. You may even stop for a moment and go “Wow, that is really good!”

                Of course, there is going to be initial shock, “Where did my sandwich go?” We designed the menu to have similar features of old favorites, so if you liked “this sandwich,” you’ll probably like “this one,” too. And to alleviate the separation anxiety, we will also be running old menu items as specials now and again.

 What was the menu process among the three chefs?

                When we got the go-ahead to work on a new menu, you start with the old one first. In this case, we had several hurdles to tackle: consolidate, simplify, highlight and remove. Together, my chefs and I sit down over several days and break down each menu — what works, what doesn’t, talking with other staff to see what needs to change, and what can be improved.

                Then we think about new items — starting with an idea, sometimes going back several years, and in different variations. You collect these ideas and work them out, sometimes as a special, or sometimes just to get someone else’s opinion. How well it was received dictates whether it even becomes something to hold on to. Then when it gets to a point of menu development, you move forward with that idea. We sit down, look at the idea as a group, make subtle changes if need be, then put it down on paper, and develop a working draft between the old menu and the new.

                After we have a working draft, we go into research and development. We source ingredients and their availability, and test recipes with each other and the staff. Sometimes one recipe can get reworked several times before it is finalized. In the end, we have a new menu that we can be very excited about.

Come by and try our chefs’ new menu items! We hope to see you soon, and we look forward to serving you!