Sonoma Menu Layers Local Flavors

As culinary director for Stark Reality restaurants in Sonoma County, Chef David Zimmerman helps supervise divergent menus in favorite local eateries like Bravas Bar de Tapas and Stark’s Steak & Seafood.


Chef David Zimmerman

Just as the menus offer variety, ingredients offer singular flavors that can be built by “seasoning in layers” with careful combinations, Chef David told guests at Fresh Starts Chef Events.

His recipe demonstrations provided a tour of the six award-winning restaurants owned by Chef Mark Stark and wife Terri, with whom he’s worked since 2007.

Chef David’s first recipe of Dungeness Crab & Uni Orzotto with Fennel Pollen began with sweating shallots, a bay leaf, and peppercorns in butter. The uni sauce is blended until smooth, then strained through a fine chinois sieve for a rich, risotto-like dish.


Dungeness Crab & Uni Orzotto

A main course of Barbecued Lamb Chops with Mint Chutney & Couscous involves several recipes but did not prove to be difficult to prepare.

Chef David started with the Moroccan Barbecue Sauce, which includes a daunting list of ingredients. After toasting the spices in a hot, dry pan “to release the flavors and get the oils moving,” however, everything else went into a pot to simmer. It was strained and ready to go without much trouble.


Chef David prepares lamb chops

While the sauce cooked, Chef David prepared the Preserved Lemon Couscous, which steams in orange juice and water. To prevent this fine, rolled form of pasta from clumping, he worked extra virgin olive oil into it with his hands for a fluffy result.

Rather than mint jelly, which the chef calls “super weird,” the lamb chops are coated with a mint chutney that comes together in the blender. They marinate for at least four hours before cooking over a medium-hot grill. As an alternative, sear in a hot pan (preferably cast iron) and finish in the oven.


Barbecued Lamb Chops with Mint Chutney & Preserved Lemon Couscous

As the chef worked, students and graduates from Fresh Starts Culinary Academy in Novato, Calif., prepared the menu and served guests. “The support of this staff has made this the easiest demo I’ve ever done. You guys have done an amazing job,” Chef David said.

He closed with a Chocolate Chunk and Banana Bread Pudding that’s a favorite dessert at Stark restaurants. The recipe uses croissants rather than bread; Chef David recommends bittersweet chocolate with 74 percent cacao.

He cautions that the custard must be made carefully so the egg yolks don’t cook. The finished presentation is a rich ending to a meal. A refreshing accompaniment was a Sonoma Rosé Iced Tea from The Republic of Tea, premier sponsor of Fresh Starts Chef Events’ monthly series. — Contributed by Carol Inkellis with photos courtesy of Neely Wang.

Chocolate Banana Bread Pudding

Chocolate Chunk & Banana Bread Pudding

Chocolate Chunk Banana Bread Pudding – Serves 8

Ingredients for the custard:
1 quart heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split
⅔ cup sugar
10 egg yolks
1⅓ tablespoons salt

Bring cream and the vanilla bean to a boil, then remove from heat, allowing to steep for 1 hour. Remove the vanilla bean, and scrape out the contents of the pod into the mixture.

In a bowl, whisk together well the sugar, yolks, and salt.

Bring the cream back to a boil and then slowly add to the egg mixture while whisking in a steady stream. Pour through mesh strainer and keep warm.

Ingredients for the bread pudding:
8 croissants, toasted and cut into 2-inch pieces
4 bananas, sliced
1 quart, plus 1 cup custard base
1 pound dark chocolate, cut into chunks

Place toasted croissant pieces and sliced bananas in a large bowl.

Add 1 quart of the custard (recipe on previous page), reserving the remaining amount. Let sit until the croissants have soaked up all the liquid.

Evenly divide the mixture into 8 soup bowls and top with a generous amount of the chocolate chunks.

Divide the remaining custard between the 8 bowls, pouring evenly around the mounded custard mixture in each bowl.

Bake at 325°F until the custard is set, about 30-35 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving warm.


About Fresh Starts Chef Events

Fresh Starts Chef Events offers a parade of presentations by celebrity chefs, cookbook authors and artisan producers in The Key Room. Visit the online calendar at for upcoming events. Our list of presenters includes luminaries from the worlds of food, wine and restaurants who share stories, demonstrate techniques and offer tips on making the most of our local bounty. You can register online for upcoming classes or call us for more details at 415-382-3363 x243. Proceeds from our events support shelter and job-training programs at Homeward Bound of Marin; learn more at and
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