‘Top Chef’ alum lands in Rancho Santa Fe


On Dec. 1, “Top Chef” returned to television for its 14th season and among its contestants is Napa Valley chef Casey Thompson, who is competing for the third time on the high-stakes cooking contest.

But the Bravo network isn’t the only place to find the Texas-bred Thompson these days. For the past five months, she’s been working under-the-radar in Rancho Santa Fe as the new executive chef at Morada, the all-day restaurant at the Inn at Rancho Santa Fe.

Thompson now splits her time between Morada and Napa, where she shares a life, home and 90-pound Labradoodle with winemaker Michael DeSantis of Harumph Wines. She spoke recently about her love/hate relationship with “Top Chef,” her work at Morada and the three dishes on her menu that she likes best.

Q: On the first episode of this season’s “Top Chef,” you asked yourself “what am I doing here?” and I wondered the same thing. Even though you won the second elimination challenge with a collard greens dish, why would you choose to subject yourself to this stress again?

A: I struggled with the decision. Going back into that situation where you’re put in that pressure cooker, your freedom is taken away. It’s really super stressful and super intense. The first time was crazy because I didn’t know what I was getting myself into (she was a runner-up in the Season 3 finale in 2007). The second time was all-star season and I knew everybody and we were friends (she packed her knives after an ill-conceived chicken feet dish in the fifth episode of the 2011 season). So when this time came around … my first reaction was ‘you guys are really crazy. Stop calling me.’ But I do love it. I’ve been a part of it in many ways for many years, whether it’s the show, the cruise, the events or the ‘Top Chef’ tour. I am a part of a family.

Q: What brought you to Morada?

A: The last restaurant I opened (Aveline at the Warwick Hotel in San Francisco), I worked with Jerome Strack and he moved to San Diego to become general manager at the Inn at Rancho Santa Fe. A few years ago, he called and asked me to come down and do a wine event, which I never ended up doing. But then he called me a year or so ago and asked me to come down and take a look at the operation. There was a different chef at the time. I came and gave him a full report and that morphed into him saying ‘why don’t you come in and help with the menu and change some things?’

Q: What changes are you making?

A: They’re undergoing a lot of renovation in the dining room and I’m creating a new menu, new dishes, new uniforms. We’re changing the face of Morada. It’s going to be a part of my Casey Thompson brand. I’m currently overhauling the menu seasonally. It’s been the way it is for such a long time. I’m also trying not to upset the locals who love certain dishes and don’t like change. It’s a difficult dance. I say ‘I know you love fried chicken, but let me do it my way.’ Right now the menu is a morph of what it was when I arrived and what my food is. When we do the absolute relaunch in the spring with the new dining room and new dishes, it will be more my complete menu.

Q: Will you stay after the menu’s introduced in the spring?

A: This is a long-term commitment. I believe in this place and I love it. I want it to be long-term part of my brand. I’m not training side by side with these guys. It’s about doing events like wine dinners. I’m more of the chef face of Morada and my team will execute my style and direction. Even though I’m not there 100 percent of the time, I care very much about making it a successful branch of my brand.

Q: So what style of cooking represents the Casey Thompson brand?

A: I would say my food is comfort California cuisine with elevated technique and presented in a beautiful way. The California style means we have accessibility to so many beautiful proteins, produce and the sea. We’re really honoring sustainability and being a good chef to the community and the earth.

Q: What three new dishes on the Morada menu best represent who you are?

A: The Arctic char is a beautiful dish with skin on, green farro and these beautiful persimmons, purslane and nasturtium leaves and flowers. I like it because it’s not salmon like every other restaurant is serving. There’s a braised short rib I’ve been doing that’s a bone-in sous-vide, 72-hour braised short rib that doesn’t come out for days. When it does, it looks like Wagyu, with some pink and fat marbling. We slice it out and serve it on the bone. Then there’s a Frito pie on the bar menu that’s a lot of fun. I’m a Texas girl and have to do that. It’s awesome smoked brisket cooked in chili, then I put good old queso on the dish, pile it with guacamole, crema, Cotija cheese and pico de gallo. It’s meant to be fun and cheeky.

Did you know?

Casey Thompson’s first kitchen job involved killing lobsters, peeling potatoes and tying corn husk bows at the Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas.


The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, 5951 Linea Del Cielo, Rancho Santa Fe

(858) 756-1131


Source: http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/communities/north-county/sd-et-dining-thompson-20161222-story.html