Executive Chef Ruben Andrade uses almost no butter in his culinary creations. He doesn’t care for butter and says it’s bad for people’s health. Instead, he uses extra virgin olive oil in just about everything because olive oil is healthier, more versatile and adds depth of flavor.
As the executive chef of the Gunrock Pub and University Catering at the University of California at Davis campus, Andrade has much latitude in his ingredients and menus. Under his leadership, the restaurant and catering operation feature both campus and locally grown organic and sustainable products.
Exemplifying farm to table sensibilities, he uses student-grown vegetables, campus-raised beef, alumni-brewed lager beer and locally grown olive oil in his creations. Ninety percent of the oil he uses is produced by the University of California at Davis in cooperation with the California Olive Ranch.
His olive oil blend of choice is “Gunrock,” named after the university mascot mustang. He says the oil is delicious but has a distinctive quality that requires judicious use in foods. The oil has an herbaceous flavor with a bit of a kick to it. He occasionally uses the “Silo” blend because it is lighter with fruity and floral qualities.
Andrade has been with the university dining services for twenty years. Before that, he worked at California restaurants in Riverside, Monterey and Sacramento. It was during his early years that he made a promise to himself, “when I become a head chef, I will always use olive oil instead of butter,” says Andrade. He believes that olive oil can do everything that butter does, only better.
The rosemary bread that is placed at each table is accompanied by olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Most restaurant patrons love to dip into one, then the other and they don’t miss the more traditional butter for their bread.
Chef Andrade’s “Chicken Marrakesh” dish from his summer menu is North African inspired with black olives, dried apricots, figs and a sauce combining olive oil, brown sugar and red wine. A portion of the money earned from the sale of the dish goes to African schools to buy lunches for schoolchildren.
Another menu favorite is the Strawberry Fields Salad with an olive oil and apple-infused balsamic vinegar dressing.
Andrade’s favorite part of his job is when his team tastes different oils and vinegars and experiments with their use in new dishes. “If it’s really good, we’ll try it as a special on the Pub menu and if people like it, we’ll add it to the catering menu.”
With California and local olive oil production on the rise, Chef Andrade should have plenty of olive oil options to inspire his future culinary innovations.