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Local

FOOD & WINE, RECIPES, FEATURES & MORE

July 5-11, 2018

LOCAL FLAVOR

flavor

RUSTIC SIMPLICITY

on the menu at Thunderbird S T O R Y B Y K AY L A A N D E R S O N

S

itting in a stone gazebo perched over the emerald waters of Lake Tahoe, we sit and talk and watch kayakers and the Sierra clouds float on a warm summer day. Executive chef Darren Weston at Thunderbird Lodge acknowledges how lucky he is to live and work here. Weston originally moved to Tahoe in 2,000 and worked for the U.S. Forest Service as a wildlife biologist surveying the land. He fell in love with a fellow biologist, who eventually became an oral surgeon. They married and both relocated to the Bay Area so that she could pursue her career in dentistry. Weston, meanwhile, went to culinary school. Then the couple moved to New York City, this time so Weston could pursue his passion. He worked with famous restauranteur Mario Bitale and also cooked at Lupa, a New York City restaurant specializing in Roman trattoria fare. The NYC food scene was exciting, but Weston and his wife yearned to come back to Tahoe. Four years ago, the opportunity came up when his wife took a job opportunity on the South Shore. With a decade of high-end culinary experience under his belt, Weston began catering for private affairs. A Thunderbird Lodge member suggested that the Whittell Estate hire him to cater its events. After a threehour interview in the same gazebo where we were sitting, Weston got the job as Thunderbird’s new executive chef.

and am unbelievably excited for this opportunity to come back. I can hike, mountain bike — I’m just happy. This is a really fun place; sometimes I gotta pinch myself. And there’s always something going on here,” he says.

LEFT TO RIGHT: Weston’s box of goods he picked

up from the South Lake farmers market aboard the “Thunderbird” yacht. | Shireen Piramoon, Thunderbird Lodge; Darren Weston picking fresh herbs he uses in his dishes at the Thunderbird. | Kayla Anderson; One of Darren Weston’s creations. | Courtesy Thunderbird Lake Tahoe

“ I try to keep it local. I love going to the farmers’ market and pulling from our own herb garden.”

Although he is classically French trained, Weston has always worked in Italian restaurants and enjoys cooking locally sourced food of whatever is in season. Every Tuesday, he takes the “Thunderbird” yacht over to the South Lake Tahoe farmers’ market to get food for that week’s meals.

“I try to keep it local. I love going to the farmers’ market and pulling from our own herb garden. The top chefs are always at them picking out their own ingredients. You have to be there to see what’s in season,” Weston says. “I do two days of shopping for a one-day event.” “He won’t let us shop for him. He’s very hands-on, making sure everything is fantastic,” says Thunderbird Lodge’s Shireen Piramoon. Weston also began integrating the estate’s own herbs, such as the tangy purple flower grown as part of the chive shoots, into his rustic, simplistic dishes. “His food is ridiculous, that’s why I don’t fit into my clothes anymore,” Piramoon says.

–Darren Weston

During the summer, Weston cooks meals for four to five events per week for private dinners, member events and corporate retreats. “In New York, I would serve 500 people in a day. Here I’ll do a private dinner for four people,” Weston says. “Every piece of food at the Thunderbird, my knife has cut or I cooked it myself. Where we’re sitting right now I’ve done an eight-course dinner for two people. It’s just as fun to cook the food as it is to eat it. This is the best table in Tahoe.” To be able to elevate the Whittell Estate with fine food is a dream come true for Weston. “I can’t fake the passion. I love Tahoe

Weston’s passion for Tahoe and cooking shines through and he is looking forward to other ways in which to highlight the Thunderbird Lodge experience. “We could bring in a pop-up format and turn Thunderbird into a restaurant for a night with a full menu and two seating times. I also want to do more with our natural environment, like host picnics at Skunk Harbor. With the bike path being built all the way to Thunderbird, we could even do catered bike tours. I’d love to do a chef-led kayak tour or snowshoe tours in the winter where we surprise our guests with hot toddies up on the hill,” he says. “I’d love to get paid to mountain bike. I’m happy to fill my pack with amazing food,” he says, naming off some of the fine cheeses and wines he would serve his guests. “This is an amazing place to work. It’s the best place on planet Earth to do dishes.” | thunderbirdtahoe.org. 

SUMMER EVENTS Tuesday-Saturday | until mid Oct.

DAILY ESTATE TOURS Tuesdays & Fridays July 10-Oct. 19

WINE & CHEESE TOURS Aug. 12

THUNDERFAIRE FOOD & WINE FAIR Sept. 9 | WINEMAKER’S DINNER Oct. 7 | AUTUMN HARVEST

DINNER 27

Profile for Tahoe Weekly

July 5 to July 11, 2018  

Webber Falls, located north of Truckee on Highway 89, plunges 76 feet in several cascades into a deep gorge carved out of basaltic bedrock....

July 5 to July 11, 2018  

Webber Falls, located north of Truckee on Highway 89, plunges 76 feet in several cascades into a deep gorge carved out of basaltic bedrock....