Some great chefs look like great chefs. And some great chefs look like regular, friendly dudes … on motorcycles.
David Fune is, understandably a great chef. The Executive Chef at Surf and Sand Resort for two years now, he oversees the majority of the culinary throughout the resort, and primarily lords over the decadent Splashes menu. In fact, Chef David Fune has about 15 years in culinary at the highest levels in Southern California, including a gourmet food truck he drove to success with his cousin.
If he passed you on the street, though (especially while traveling on his Triumph motorcycle), you just wouldn’t take the guy for a great chef at one of Laguna’s renowned great resorts.
When he talks about food, motorcycles and his family, he is completely immersed and highly animated. This guy adores his three loves of life. But when he talks about food production at award-winning Splashes, it’s all about his team and his genius Chef de Cuisine Julio Aguilar. Chef David is clearly the primary creator (or, at least, co-creator) of the revived menu since his coming on board, but there’s not a lot of “I” in Chef David.
Most chefs just don’t talk like that. Maybe this is why most chefs don’t produce the kind of “foodie love” menu this guy does.
Adding Vibrancy to Every Plate
When Chef David Fune came on board two years ago, he says one of the most significant changes had to do with color. “There was just too much brown on all the plates. I wanted to spark it up with really vibrant color, so that’s where we started.”
Now, every plate reflects the spark, with anything from flights of carrots (carrots done and plated three different ways) to bright tufts of micro greens and edible flowers.
“Most of our new dish creations actually start with the produce we want to work with, and then we build out from there,” says Chef David. “It’s just so important to have that freshness and color infused everywhere.”
Then, it was about introducing different taste textures and taste sensations in each dish. Take, for instance, one of David’s newest creations, his Ahi Marrow, so named because the pumpernickel lavash makes the dish look more like a bone marrow dish.
Rather than going with a normal lavash flatbread (your usual tan cracker color), Chef wanted the deep color and crackle that pumpernickel would add, so he asked his bread supplier to create it for him.
“The pumpernickel holds up really well to the Ahi, both in flavor contrast and in that it doesn’t get sogged down from the Ahi mix,” says Chef. The mix itself is sushi grade Ahi, fried capers, spinach and ginger all piled into the slightly hollowed lavash. It’s then topped with micro basil, white radish shavings and colorful edible flowers.
As Chef David predicts, it’s a gorgeous taste treat with layers of flavors and crunch.
The Brussels Sprouts dish, with kudos to Chef de Cuisine Julio, proffers another example of a combined taste treat of sweet and savory in an Asian-influenced presentation. The Brussels are first fried in smoked Uzu curd, Uzu being an Asian fruit that sits somewhere between grapefruit and mandarin orange in flavor.
While the chefs could probably stop there with the “sweet and savory” equation already solved, they create a mellow soy sauce, add julienned black and white radish (for peppery bite), cilantro and Asian parsley, and toss it all together for a heavenly creamy/smoky/crisp sensation.
Although the plating of these dishes is quite lovely, Chef David says he prefers to teach his chefs to create dish presentation that “look like they fell from the tree.”
“I guess you could say our style of food here is Modern American with a beachy twist because I want it to have more of a relaxed feel about it,” says Chef David. “I want it to look beautiful without a lot of tweezer work so that you could actually take it to the beach for a picnic, jostle it around a bit and it would still look good.”
Giving Fish and Shellfish the Love They Deserve
Given that fish and shellfish are usually the most popular items on this resort’s menus, Chef offers a variety of options to please any palate.
He loves octopus but found that most octopus preparation left the mollusk too chewy. “I’m not interested in pounding the texture out of it so, instead, we pressure cook the octopus for about 30 minutes and it ends up being super tender,” says Chef.
He chars the octopus slightly (“to get a bit of the crunchy back,” he says) and serves it up with squid-ink infused potatoes (“to add rich flavor and color to your average bland potato,” he says.)
The octopus is so tender, I can cut it easily with a fork. This is one of he most flavorful servings of octopus I’ve had in a long time. (Mission accomplished, Chef.)
For years, scallops at the Splashes resort had been served with risotto and, while Chef David has nothing against risotto, he wanted to change up the color and texture here, too. This time, Chef reached back to the Egyptian Pharaohs for their “forbidden rice,” an aromatic black rice that was once reserved for royalty and buried with Pharaohs (because every Pharaoh needs his starch).
“Forbidden rice has this amazing nutty flavor but it can be a little chewy, so we actually overcook it on purpose to give it a creamy, soft texture,” says Chef David.
Then, Chef takes a mirepoix of vegetables (a mix of chopped asparagus, onion and carrots), adds in super-crunchy kale, then purées the mix with milk and seasonings to create a flavorful sauce with a nice bit of crunch.
Menu’s “Spring Refreshing” On the Horizon
Of course, now that I’ve fallen in love with my Scallops dish, Chef tells me he’s changing it.
This is the problem with chefs, heavy sigh. They’re always coming up with something new.
He assures me, though, that the primary dishes he’s introduced to me will, for the most part, remain the same. “We’re just doing some springtime updates with seasonal vegetables and sauces,” he says.
The Scallop dish will take on lighter sauce fare with compressed cucumber, fresh chickpeas and fresh bok choy making their way into the purée. The Octopus will pair itself with dehydrated eggplant, smoked peas and pistachios. And the Ahi will join forces with albacore and an intensely creative bit of shredded phyllo dough to present itself in a “nest” with a tiny quail egg on top (I can’t wait to see that photo.)
Additionally, Chef David Fune will be adding a few lighter menu items in exchange for heartier winter fare.
Fennel and squash soup will make the scene with a happy dollop of feuilletine (think tiny frosted flakes) and blue cheese crumbles. A new duck dish involves so many creative details I can’t write fast enough to keep up with Chef’s gesticulations … and the new halibut dish is something he’s really looking forward to.
“We’re doing a flight of potatoes with the halibut, so it’s going to be a lot of fun,” says Chef.
The halibut will be shouldered by crispy, rounded criss-cross chips, a potato “bread pudding,” and a confit gnocchi to complete the tasty, texture-y ring o’ goodness. To finish the plate, a potato bisque is poured into the dish, tableside.
The Splashes spring menu is as enticing as the setting the restaurant itself enjoys, nestled on the sand with its enormous glass doors flung open to the breeze. Finally, for this local, the culinary talent and taste has surpassed the extraordinary view.
Splashes is in the Surf and Sand Resort, 1555 South Coast Highway, Laguna Beach. For dinner, call for reservations, (888) 976-0820.