Califonia Bountiful

Holiday cooking the Italian way

November/December 2019 California Bountiful magazine

Chef offers simple seasonal recipes for winter feasts

Chef Luca Crestanelli honors his Italian roots at S.Y. Kitchen in Santa Ynez. Photo: © 2019 Silas Fallstich

Chef Luca Crestanelli laughs when he stops to consider how people in the U.S. approach meals in comparison to his native Italy, where time at the dinner table moves at a snail's pace.

"Thanksgiving dinner here, for instance, people spend hours and days cooking and planning, and then everything is done in 20 minutes," he said with a good-natured chuckle. "And that drives me insane because I'm used to five-hour lunches where you eat and sit down and you talk, and then the other course comes and then you talk some more."

He's not being critical: "It's just a different approach."

As owner and executive chef of S.Y. Kitchen in Santa Ynez, Crestanelli honors his Italian roots—albeit at a faster pace—with a style of cuisine that focuses on quality ingredients in simple preparations.

"What I do is simple food, but there's a lot going on behind it, an understanding of the product. I spend time trying to find the right product," he said.

Fortunately, he added, "the majority of the things that are good come just from right here."

Crestanelli learned the art of simplicity from his mother—who had a garden and cooked "every single meal" from scratch—and honed it in culinary school. Now he's passing it down to his daughters, ages 3 and 5.

"They're starting to understand from a very young age, you don't need much to make a great meal," he said.

Because after all, food is a universal language.

"What brought me closer to food is just the doors that it opens with people," Crestanelli said. "It's for me a way to know people. It's what bonds people in life, at the end of the day."

Barbara Arciero


Oro blanco grapefruit salad with celery root, arugula, red endive and goat cheese

Kabocha squash soup with rosemary and Dungeness crab

Risotto with porcini, black truffle and Taleggio cheese

Semolina and cocoa gnocchi with pecorino and pistachios

Chestnut pudding with persimmon sorbet

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