Chef Greg Arnold’s modern plant-based cuisine at Mesa Verde Restaurant in Santa Barbara stimulates more than your appetite. Yes, the dishes’ vegetables come straight from the weekly farmers market. Yes, the menu’s inspiration comes from Mediterranean influences. But it’s the melding of all this plus art – what he calls “synesthesia” – that makes his food exquisite.
A vegetarian himself, Chef Arnold elevates plants to starring roles using a Mediterranean mindset. “This style of cooking goes so well with California produce because of our similar climates,” says Arnold. “My salads come from what I find here at the market, because ingredients in season tend to pair well together.” The Mediterranean’s diverse spices also give Arnold’s dishes power: the menu is threaded with bold notes from the Middle East, North Africa and Southern Europe.
It’s fusion cuisine at its best: street tacos, exotic spices, starring veggies and also art. Growing up painting, playing music and cooking, Arnold realized that with food, our senses mesh. How a dish looks and tastes is intermingled. So, beauty becomes delicious.
To make this simple salad, Chef Arnold roasts carrots in the oven with cumin seeds, thyme and olive oil until soft, then purées them. He also blanches fresh peas in salted water (it should taste like the ocean) for 1 minute, moves them to an ice bath, then purées them with water and lemon. He paints the plate with both, then adds halved peas and okra, torn kale and slices of cucumber, yellow squash, fennel and endive. Topping the salad is a sprinkle of blueberries, wood sorrel leaves and flowers with powdered sumac and chlorella on the side.
The dressing is also simple, yet powerful. Chef Arnold reveals his favorite super-easy vinaigrette based on a classic Levantine salad: fattoush. He blends grapeseed oil (it’s lighter than olive oil), lemon, fresh garlic, fresh thyme, salt and sumac, then lightly drizzles it over the top.