Attention: It’s currently fall. And with that comes lots of fun things like pumpkins, spices and lattes… oh wait. Don’t think about saying the words ‘pumpkin spice’ and ‘Campfire’ in the same sentence (even though this is a delightful duo in any other context). We’re talking about fall’s influence on Campfire, the restaurant, for the second installation of Fall Into Flavor. Catch up with part one here.
Proudly proclaiming a market-driven food and cocktail menu, owner John Resnick is sharing how autumn’s changing of the leaves inspired the most recent menu. Resnick, Chef Andrew Bachelier and the team are influenced by what’s fresh and local, to the day. Giving careful consideration to the proportions of the menu (the food menu is equally appointed with meat, seafood and produce), the revolving door of Campfire’s menu ensures each visit is totally new, seasonal and as delicious as ever.
CAMPFIRE + GATHERING
Campfires are known as a way for people to gather, chat and tell stories. How did you translate the idea of a campfire setting to a space meant for gatherings?
Campfire Owner, John Resnick: Yes! It is all about people coming together and talking to each other. For us, that means creating a space that encourages and helps foster that idea and behavior. We’ve tried to cultivate a space that encourages people to focus on each other, to talk to each other. Everything else in the space – the lack of TV’s, the delicious and memorable booze and food, the warm and authentic hospitality, the music and lighting – literally every detail of the space is aimed at getting people to feel good about being here, to enjoy spending time here with friends and loved ones, to enjoy telling stories here and hopefully, to creating some new ones.
What types of gatherings do you typically host at Campfire?
Resnick: Personal ones. Whether that is a couple on their first date or celebrating an anniversary, groups of friends coming together for no reason at all or to celebrate a birthday, or families enjoying a night out. We are a space for the community to come together, in whatever form that takes.
For many, fall means the beginning of the “gathering season”. What does gathering mean to you and your talented staff?
Resnick: I think that for our crew, it’s all about coming together for a shared purpose. We really believe in what we do here, we all care about it and that is what ties us together.
There are a lot of global influences on the menu. How were they inspired by gatherings around the world and how did they pair that inspiration with local North County influences?
Resnick: Cooking over a live fire is a global technique, it is truly the original cooking method, no matter where you are from. That style of cooking is all about community, no matter if you are in Vietnam, Argentina or Carlsbad. Harvesting crops, breaking down animals and cooking them over a fire with your community is at the core of so many gatherings and the heart of food culture around the world. We’ve embraced our location in North County in that we utilize local produce and try to present it with a whimsical and beautiful aesthetic, in a way that we hope preserves a sense of place while also being transportive.
MEET CAMPFIRE'S CHEF DE CUISINE, RYAN ORLANDO
What inspired you to start working at Campfire?
Chef De Cuisine, Ryan Orlando: I was the executive chef at Lomas Santa Fe Country Club prior to working here. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be able to come and work with Chef Andrew, John Resnick and everyone who was building this. My wife and I had been here about four or five times before the posting came up so when I saw it, I just had to jump on it as soon as I could. I had met Chef Andrew before, so it also really worked for me in that aspect. I absolutely had to be a part of a restaurant that to me is one of the most forward and progressive thinking in food, not only in North County but in San Diego. To be a part of the food culture that is growing in both Carlsbad and Oceanside along with the support that the restaurants and the chefs have for one other is really something special. I look forward to coming in here every day & learning from Chef Andrew and our other chefs so I can keep progressing and moving forward with Campfire and getting better and better.
How is the open flame different from anything you have done before?
Orlando: The open flame is amazing. The whole thing has been so exciting. To learn to build proper fires and to be able to rake your coals, to learn how to create your own hot spots and places of resting has been such an experience. It’s like nothing that I have ever experienced before. It’s truly inspiring to come in here and work with that concept every single day.
Has the concept changed the way you think about food in general?
Orlando: At home we grill everything. We put a grill or a char on everything. This is what I love to do. I love charring food, I love adding that extra depth of flavor. To be able to do that here every day while learning new smoking techniques is exciting. Every day is exciting. Every day I learn something new. Everyone learns from each other here and I just want to keep building on that.
MEET CAMPFIRE'S MORNING LEAD, MARLENE GARCIA
Tell us about working with the unique concept of cooking here at Campfire.
Morning Lead, Marlene Garcia: The most unique part of the concept is working with fire and wood every day. I now know how to work with the wood, the ashes and the coals. I had previously only cooked with gas or an oven, not an open fire, so I've learned the concept of even starting a fire since working here. It’s really incredible that I know how to start a fire on my own and keep it alive throughout the whole service. I stoke the fire every day.
Everyone here wants you to learn, they want you to keep growing. I started as a cook line and now I’m morning lead. All of the Sous Chefs, all of the leads, all of the Chefs here motivate you, they want you to be better, they want you to learn.
Chef Andrew always tries to pick my brain as much as he can. When he sees something in you, he’s going to try and get that out of you. It's a really great feeling and it shows that he really cares about all of us. I’ve never worked with a group that is so motivated and determined to put out such great food every single day. That's what makes Campfire so special.
ON THE MENU
What inspired the campfire menu?
Resnick: Our collective experiences. We knew we wanted the menu to give equal real estate to meat, seafood and produce, and we didn’t want to be confined by any one cuisine. Other than that, we are slaves to the seasons and chef is inspired by what he finds in the markets and by the collaborative talent of his kitchen team.
The glass kitchen is the focal point of the restaurant. Why did you choose to lay it out that way?
Resnick: We wanted guests to know what we were all about the moment they walk into the restaurant. The first 3 things you see are the hosts, the kitchen and the bar. We did that specifically so that guests knew immediately that hospitality, food and drink were what they are gonna experience here. The kitchen is definitely the crown jewel and, of course, is where the fire resides. The glass kitchen allows guests to see what we are doing, to stare at the fire, which is really important, yet even more important is that it allows our kitchen crew to see the guests and everything happening in the restaurant. If you’re gonna stand next to a 1000-degree grill and work your ass off, it’s nice to see people enjoying the fruits of your labor. We wanted our kitchen crew to feel as connected to the guest experience as possible and vice versa.
MEET CAMPFIRE'S BAR MANAGER, LEIGH LACAP
How does Campfire & the open flame influence your drinks?
Bar Manager, Leigh Lacap: I previously thought that all the liqueurs, all of the spirits and everything that we work with should be left alone. I know that the distilleries and producers work really hard to make these products so we should leave them untouched. When I came here and met with Chef, I realized that in the kitchen they simply and subtly manipulate and enhance the amazing products they source. If you start with something good you can make it even better. You can express what’s already there. So we said, ‘wow’ we can do that with the booze too. I don’t think that we are messing with the integrity of what was given to us, I think we’re just expressing it in ways that haven’t been done before. Having the giant grill, all of the wood and the smoker gives us brand new avenues to play with. Working in this bar and working with Chef is like a whole new playground, every week is a new adventure. If he has a new ingredient that he thinks we should try or a new technique he thinks we should use to manipulate these ingredients, it’s a whole new learning process that keeps things fresh and interesting. We’re a year in and it’s just as exciting as day one.”
Tell us about this drink you just created called ‘Winter in Monaco’...
Lacap: Winter in Monaco is a take on the classic Monte Carlo, I think it appeared sometime in the 1940’s. It was printed in ‘The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks’ by David Embury. It’s a really simple drink with three ingredients: Rye Whiskey, Benedictine and a dash of bitters. I love the drink, it’s the way I like to get started. You can sit down, wind down and have something nice and boozy to sip on. We were introduced to a walnut bitter several years ago and I thought, well, the benedictine already has a little bit of a honey herbal taste, how would that go with these bitters that taste almost like maple. I added the dash of that instead of the regular bitters that go in the Monte Carlo cocktail and it was mind blowing. It’s a really strong cocktail so the next step was to make it a little bit more rich and memorable, this is when we incorporated the walnut oil. The walnut oil adds this brilliant texture and adds a little bit of a nutty and roasted flavor because its made from pressed walnuts. So just a little bit of that and all of a sudden you have that warm taste you get when you snack on walnuts. This makes the cocktail really great for fall in winter because 1. it’s boozy and that makes you warm and 2. its’ that familiar taste of roasted nuts and maple. This always reminds me of fall and winter."
Tell us about your craft cocktail program for the upcoming season…
Resnick: We’re just gonna add Pumpkin Spice to all of our existing cocktails. But if that fails, we will continue to harness seasonal produce and focus on comforting flavors. For example, we’ve got a cocktail coming up called Grilled Peach. We will be grilling peaches with brown sugar and a touch of salt, then mixing that with a locally made masala chai tea. We turn all of that into a syrup and couple it with good bourbon, American apple brandy and fresh lemon juice. Drinking it should feel like falling backwards into a large pile of freshly fallen leaves.
If you could live off one Campfire-created cocktail for the rest of your life what would it be?
Resnick: Probably the Roasted Beet. It’s off our ‘From the Fire’ section of the menu, in which the kitchen and bar collaborate on cocktails, and we use the live-fire to enhance the flavors of produce that goes in the cocktails. In this case, we roast some beautiful honey beets, and combine them with gin, honey, fresh pressed ginger and fresh lemon juice. I’m pretty sure this drink has to be good for you somehow and it is incredibly delicious.
How are the cocktails influenced by the live fire kitchen concept?
Resnick: One word: technique. Especially in the From the Fire cocktails, Chef Andrew taught us how to utilize the subtleties of wood, fire and smoke to manipulate the outstanding qualities of seasonal produce while pairing them with well-made spirits.
Tell us more about your large-format cocktails. These must be a huge hit with groups!
Resnick: We have these gorgeous crystal-glazed growlers that hold a bunch of booze, each serves about 4-6 friends. Currently we have two growler cocktails on the menu, and we serve these “punches” with Falcon enamel tumblers, which is good, because they are hard to break, and after drinking a growler, your hand-eye coordination may be a little off.
What full course meal would you recommend, and in what order?
Resnick: Oh man, this isn’t a fair question. Our menus change a little week by week, as we are market driven, so it’s hard to say exactly. And honestly, everything on the menu is solid. But if I were coming in for dinner tonight with my wife, I would probably get our Rockfish Ceviche, Caramelized Endive, Roasted Farro, Manila Clams & Pork Belly, Pork Chop Adobada and finish with some Poached Pears. Yeah, I like to eat.
The camp scene and fall go all too well together ... anything new we should expect to see on the menu this season from Campfire?
Resnick: Yes, you can expect new things to be popping up on the menu every few weeks or so. We don’t even know what that will be yet, which is part of the beauty of being market-driven. We can get inspired at any time and can decide to add something to the menu if we notice something in the market that catches our imagination. We look forward to finding out what that will be…