Now that we’re officially in spring, it’s time to start thinking about preparing foods that are a little lighter than the heavy stews and soups we’ve been enjoying in cold weather. I recently met with a young chef, Teri McIllwain, who had spent years as the nutritional chef at the La Costa Resort in San Diego County and before that as a personal chef in San Diego. Yes, she got her start with APPCA. Just a few months ago, she left La Costa to take her nutrition chops up the road to another resort, Cape Rey Carlsbad.

I love Teri’s approach to ingredients: seasonal, local, and healthy. She buys from local farms–how many resorts let their chefs do that–and she makes seasonal connections that aren’t necessarily obvious. For instance, when she sees pea tendrils at the farm, she knows that halibut won’t be far behind (yes, fish is also seasonal) and that it’s time to change the menu for the resort’s restaurant, Chandler’s.

Healthy meals are deeply important to her both at the restaurant and at home. She explained she regularly cooks up batches of whole grains and ancient grains at home to heat up for breakfast so she has energy for the day. And she shared a dish she loves to make–a variation of which will be on the menu, she added–that involves sauteing pancetta in a pan, then adding shredded yams that crispen up in a pancake. To that she adds green onions, feta, and a dollop of Greek yogurt.

I spent some time with her recently and she showed me how to make a favorite dish: Farro Stir Fry. I think as chefs you’ll appreciate how versatile and easy it is to prepare. We have a recipe, of course, but this is sort of a movable feast. It’s a farro stir fry, but you could use any whole or ancient grain instead. Teri includes shrimp, but you could make it with chicken or tofu or some other protein–or no protein. Teri’s recipe calls for butternut squash, but she used delicata squash with me and plans to switch that out once summer squash is in season–perhaps roasting it ahead of time. And the greens are up to you. She used kale, but spinach, Swiss chard, or other greens–or a mix of them–will work just as well.

One last thing. Make sure you’ve prepped your ingredients before starting cooking. With the exception of the winter squash, this goes pretty quickly once you get started. But the results? Sublime!

Farro Stir Fry
From Teri McIllwain of Chandler’s Restaurant at Cape Rey Carlsbad
Serves 4


16 Baja prawns, peeled and deveined
1 TB olive oil
1 lemon, zest and juice
Salt and Pepper



In a large mixing bowl add combine shrimp, lemon juice, lemon zest and salt and pepper. Toss and set aside. Meanwhile, in a large nonstick sauté pan over medium heat add the olive oil, allow for oil to heat through and cover entire pan. Once hot add the shrimp to the pan, and evenly place shrimp to cover the pan. Cook shrimp without moving until shrimp begin to turn slightly pink and begin to tighten. Flip shrimp and continue to cook until pink and fragrant. Remove from the pan and hold to the side.


2 TB olive oil
1 small onion, small diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup butternut squash, small diced
2 cups beech mushrooms
3 cups cooked pearled farro
½ – 1 cup chicken broth
1 green onion chopped
2 cups local green, chopped
2 TB gluten free soy sauce



Over Medium heat using the same pan, add olive oil and heat through. Once hot, add the onion, garlic, and the squash until cooked through. Add the mushrooms, sauté until slightly cooked, 30 seconds, then add the farro. Stir-fry the farro until golden brown, then add the chicken stock until farro slightly covered. Simmer until most of the stock is absorbed, then fold in the greens and green onions.


½ Meyer lemon
Sea salt and black pepper to taste


Plate stir fry and add shrimp, squeeze lemon on top, season and serve.


What new dishes are you developing for spring? How important is it for them to have interchangeable ingredients?

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