A new flair at a local favorite: Cottonwood Restaurant & Bar’s first new chef in 20 years
April 10, 2018
Overlooking downtown Truckee sits one of the locals' favorite eateries and one of the most historic sites in the region.
The Cottonwood Restaurant & Bar is steeped in ski history dating back to the town's Winter Carnivals more than a century ago. Inside the walls of the longtime eatery, however, something new is cooking.
Truckee local Donovan Webb recently took over as executive chef, marking the first time in more than 20 years the restaurant has had a new chef at the helm, and with that comes new menu items featuring an ever-revolving selection of seasonal cuisine.
"It's a constantly changing menu that's really paying attention to the concerns of people these days, which is where's my food coming from, and did people care about the product from the get-go," said Webb. "We have a staff that's very knowledgeable. They'll be able to tell you what farms things are from, and as summer comes on there are a lot of local farms that we'll showcase things from. Those are the things people really care about and what we're steering things towards."
The restaurant is preparing to shift its menu to reflect spring, according to Webb, which will include lighter courses and twists on current items like chicken linguini and chicken wings.
"We want it to be where you can come in two months from now and be like, 'Well that wasn't there,'" said Webb. "There's always something new to try."
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Webb said Cottonwood aims to create food choices based off local, sustainable products, with the restaurant already making changes to where it gets a number of produce items.
"We tried to go as local as we could. We're going with sustainability," said Webb. "We changed all of the chicken to Petaluma Poultry. It's all natural, in Northern California, family owned, and free range. We changed all of our chicken over to that, including making our chicken fingers for the kids out of that chicken, in-house. All of our burgers, our meat, we try to keep the same practice."
While many of the local favorites, such as the restaurant's butternut squash enchilada, are gone from the menu, Webb said he's confident that Cottonwood can match or exceed any of its previous menu items.
"We've definitely had some people who are like where's this item, where's that item?" he said. "The way we've dealt with that is to put a product that we're completely proud of and have no doubts that they'd love it if they tried it … if you liked that, you're going to love this."
Among the items Webb, who has 20 years of culinary experience, said he is most excited about bringing to the menu this season is a different take on an Italian spring favorite.
"One of the things we are looking at is doing a vegetarian, gluten-free style of a vegetable primavera," he said. "Except we're going to be using a zucchini or squash as the noodles, a little bit of white wine, butter, sautéed to order — just clean and delicious."
A career in culinary
Since his first job, Webb has always found himself around the food industry.
He entered the workforce as a youngster at the now-closed Cantina Los Tres Hombres in Kings Beach, and ended up working in restaurants throughout his time in college.
Ultimately, it wasn't a career in culinary that Webb ended up with. Instead he took a job running printing presses, printing magazines and weekly publications.
"One day, I just didn't want to do it anymore," he said.
Webb then began taking odd jobs as a handyman, helping out friends and their families.
"As it was going I started trading baked goods and recipes with friends' moms and grandmas," he said. "It became more in more like, 'I enjoy this.' That's when I decided to go to culinary school and pursue it as a career."
Webb enrolled in the Art Institute California – Orange County, and after graduating with a culinary degree, he went on to work at the Ritz-Carlton, and also teamed up to open the Truckee Tavern & Grill as its executive chef. He now brings a unique take to Cottonwood Restaurant.
"Simplistic, Americana with an ingredient-oriented Italian flare," said Webb on his style of cooking. "Not the tomato sauce, parmesan type of Italian, but more of the seasonality of it with pairing your cheeses, your meats, and your vegetables."
The restaurant also features new craft cocktails and wine pairings tailored to menu items.
"We try to have a very approachable wine list," said Webb. "We offer bottles from $30 all the way up to $200. There's definitely things for everyone."
Among the items at the restaurant are butternut squash grits, pork porterhouse, grass-fed beef burger, and braised baby back pork ribs.
To view a full list of Cottonwood Restaurant & Bar's menu visit CottonwoodRestaurant.com. The restaurant is open daily. The bar opens at 4:30 p.m. and the kitchen opens at 5 p.m.
Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Truckee Sun. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.