After more than five years as executive chef at Loews Coronado Bay Resort, Justin Searle is the new executive chef at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center. Here, he shares his love for cooking, explains his plans for enhancing the hospital’s food offerings, and reveals the secret ingredients in one of his favorite recipes.
What sparked your interest in the culinary arts?
My earliest and fondest memories are of cooking. Whether it was sitting on the kitchen counter while my mom or dad prepared meals and baked, or learning to cook my grandfather’s recipes, cooking is something that always helped me feel more connected to my family. Food is the one thing that always brings people together. I decided I wanted to do something that would celebrate people and bring us all together. Cooking is literally in my blood, so my calling was discovered by age 4.
Where did you begin your career?
Initially, at the kitchen counter of my childhood home in Arizona. My first professional kitchen job was on a Navy base in El Centro where I washed dishes, prepared food and worked as a bar-back on weekend nights. I learned a lot about respect and teamwork there. After culinary school, I interned at Loews. Then I was offered a job as the saute cook for the main restaurant, working my way up the ranks to eventually become executive sous chef. I held other chef de cuisine and banquet chef positions with other companies, including Four Seasons Aviara, Four Seasons Hotel New York and Hard Rock Hotel San Diego.
Why Sharp HealthCare?
We have a pretty holistic approach to our health and wellness at home, and I love that Sharp has the same mindset. Sharp Chula Vista has a great reputation and the team here has been so warm and welcoming. I’m very excited for the future here.
What do you plan on doing now that you are Sharp Chula Vista’s executive chef?
I want to focus on the food we serve and provide comforting, healthy cuisine to all who eat here. No one wants to be in a hospital, but I’m going to make sure they’re eating the best dish for each meal while they’re here.
Do you have any specific plans for the rooftop cafe at Sharp Chula Vista’s new hospital when it opens in 2019?
All I can say is we are going to make it amazing.
What’s your go-to weeknight meal?
Polenta with grilled salmon and balsamic Brussels sprouts. It’s a very satisfying and comforting dish that is definitely a favorite in my house; my wife especially loves it.
Polenta With Grilled Salmon and Balsamic Brussels Sprouts
Yields 6 servings
For the polenta
1 cup polenta
5 cups stock, either chicken or vegetable
1 cup Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon butter, unsalted
1 tablespoon thyme, freshly chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
In a medium-sized pot, bring stock to a boil. Add polenta while whisking, so it doesn’t clump. Continue stirring with a wooden spoon while it cooks. Be careful of any splatters.
Once polenta is mixed well, turn heat down to simmer and stir every 5 to 7 minutes. Check the bottom of the pot to ensure it’s not sticking or burning. Cook for 30 to 40 minutes.
Taste polenta to make sure it’s cooked; it should have the consistency of very thick porridge. Then add cheese, butter and thyme, and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste.
For the salmon
6 salmon filets, 6 ounces each
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon crushed red peppers
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon parsley, minced
1 tablespoon basil, minced
1 teaspoon thyme, minced
2 teaspoons black pepper, ground
Salt and pepper, to taste
Place salmon filets in a shallow dish. To create the marinade, combine remaining ingredients in a small bowl and mix. Coat salmon pieces with marinade and let sit for 20 minutes before grilling or searing. Before cooking, season with salt and pepper, and cook to desired doneness.
For the Brussels sprouts
2 pounds Brussels sprouts
1 ounce garlic, minced
2 ounces onion, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons thyme, minced
1 tablespoon basil, chopped
1 teaspoon rosemary, minced
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste
Shaved Parmesan cheese, for garnish
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook Brussels sprouts until just tender — a knife inserted should feel slight resistance. Once tender, remove Brussels sprouts and place in ice water to stop cooking. Remove from water once completely cool. Use paper towels to pat dry.
In a saute pan, heat oil and butter over medium-high heat, then add Brussels sprouts. Cook to caramelize the Brussels sprouts. Pour out any water that leaks from the Brussels sprouts to prevent them from steaming or boiling. Continue to cook until the Brussels sprouts are roasted. Then add onion and garlic, and cook until caramelized with Brussels sprouts.
Add balsamic vinegar and cook until vegetables are glazed. Finish with chopped herbs and season to taste with salt and pepper.
To present the dish, place 1/2 cup polenta on a plate and top with 1/3 cup of Brussels sprouts. Then lay one filet of salmon across the top and garnish with additional herbs and olive oil.
For the news media: To talk with executive chef Justin Searle for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at email@example.com or 858-499-3052.