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California Wine Country Chef Prepares A Fall Feast

Chef Ryan Swarthout's Braised Short Ribs With Mushroom Pappardelle. Credit: Copyright 2015 courtesy of Ryan Swarthout

Chef Ryan Swarthout's Braised Short Ribs With Mushroom Pappardelle. Credit: Copyright 2015 courtesy of Ryan Swarthout

Paso Robles, California, is gaining as much recognition of late for its cuisine as for the region’s celebrated wines, with chefs drawn to the bounty of the state’s Central Coast.

Downtown Paso Robles, ringed with fine restaurants, is anchored by the historic Paso Robles Inn, which has long been known for the traditional menu at the Steakhouse Restaurant. Now, with the arrival of Ryan Swarthout as the inn’s executive chef in April 2015, the menu is being tweaked.

While maintaining a meat-lover’s menu, Swarthout is making a few changes. “I’m bringing a bit of freshness,” he said, cradling a bowl of silky butternut squash soup garnished with green apple strips and a delicate chive blossom.

For example, the steak menu is being edited and trimmed, and the potato gratin is being made in-house. “And we took away the balsamic reduction on the halibut,” Swarthout said.

Herbs and a variety of tomatoes from the inn’s organic garden are finding their way into dishes, and Swarthout has even created a habanero jam with peppers harvested from the garden’s abundant bush.

When asked what kind of specials diners are likely to see on the fall menu, his face lights up. He mentions the butternut soup as well as braised dishes such as short ribs. He even provided the recipes (see below) and suggested that a versatile dish like the braised short ribs can be served over pappardelle or with topping potatoes, whether mashed or baked. In his version, he adds crimini mushrooms to the pasta for a heartier touch and uses a beef stock that simmers in the restaurant kitchen for several hours.

Chef’s journey one worth following

Chef Ryan Swarthout. Credit: Copyright 2015 courtesy of Ryan Swarthout

Chef Ryan Swarthout. Credit: Copyright 2015 courtesy of Ryan Swarthout

I have followed Swarthout’s culinary arc since 2005, when I first met him and tasted his wine-country cuisine at Deborah’s Room at Justin Winery. He served as executive chef there for six years and since then has done the rounds in Paso Robles, from launching a catering company and cooking for elaborate weddings at the former Eagle Castle Winery to serving as opening chef at three downtown restaurants — Robert’s Restaurant and Bar, Estrella and Second Press. I have experienced much of the versatility in his cooking, which ranges from American Bistro style to Latin fare.

Originally from El Centro, California, Swarthout got hooked on cooking when he started out as a busboy in a Mexican restaurant. “But I didn’t want to be a short-order cook,” he recalled.  After researching culinary schools, he opted to attend San Francisco’s California Culinary Academy, graduating in 1997 and going to work for chef Mark Miller in the Bay Area.

Swarthout’s food sensibilities were further elevated with trips to Europe, first as a young backpacker with his wife, Kate, and later as a chef with the U.S. Armed Forces in the Alpine town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a German ski resort.

“It gave me a better understanding how Old World food is steeped in tradition,” he said of the experience.

Because Kate is from San Luis Obispo, California, the couple settled in the charming town on the Central Coast and Ryan began working as a sous chef both at Gardens of Avila and Café Roma before making his move to Paso Robles.

Swarthout regards himself as a Paso Robles chef. And how does he define it?

“Paso has so much to offer, with the wineries and local farms around,” he said. The culinary flavor reflects the local bounty, including olive oil, honey, poultry, seafood and produce.

Next time you visit the Paso Robles wine region, you can get a taste of how Swarthout defines the region’s culinary style. In the meantime, try these warming Paso Robles Inn Steakhouse recipes at home.

Butternut Squash and Green Apple Soup

Butternut Squash and Green Apple Soup. Credit: Copyright 2015 courtesy of Ryan Swarthout

Butternut Squash and Green Apple Soup. Credit: Copyright 2015 courtesy of Ryan Swarthout

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Swarthout’s wine recommendation: Vintage Cowboy Grenache Blanc, Paso Robles


3 tablespoons olive oil

2 shallots, minced

1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed

2 large green apples, coarsely chopped

2 quarts chicken stock

1/2 teaspoon curry powder

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Salt and pepper to taste

For garnish:

Thinly sliced apples

Chive blossoms

Crème fraiche


  1. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat and add the shallots.
  2. Sauté for one minute, then add the butternut squash and apples. Sauté for 3 minutes.
  3. Add the chicken stock and spices. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. Turn off the heat. Puree with an immersion blender or in a regular blender.
  5. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with thinly sliced apples, chive blossoms and crème fraiche.

Braised Short Ribs With Mushroom Pappardelle

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 4 hours

Total time: 4 hours, 30 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

Swarthout’s wine recommendation: Daou Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles


For the braised short ribs:

3 tablespoons olive oil

8 whole beef short ribs

Salt and pepper to taste

1 onion, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

3 sticks celery, chopped

2 cups red wine

2 cups beef stock

2 sprigs thyme

2 sprigs rosemary

For the mushroom pappardelle:

1 cup sliced crimini mushrooms

Salt and pepper to taste

1 (24-ounce) package of pappardelle


For the braised short ribs:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Season short ribs with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat oil in an oven-proof pan over medium heat. Add short ribs and sear 3 to 5 minutes on each side.
  3. Remove ribs and set aside.
  4. Turn the heat down to medium. Add onion, carrots and celery to pan and sauté for 2 minutes.
  5. Pour in the wine and scrape bottom of the pan to release all the flavorful bits.
  6. Add the beef stock. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes. Add the ribs to the liquid. They should be almost completely submerged. Add thyme and rosemary.
  7. Cover the pan with a lid and place in the preheated oven. Cook at 350 F for 3 hours. The ribs should be fork tender when done.
  8. Remove pan from the oven. Remove the ribs and set aside.
  9. Skim the fat off the top of the liquid in the pan and bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the liquid by half and set aside.

For the mushroom pappardelle:

  1. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat.
  2. Add the mushrooms and sauté them for five minutes. Season with salt and pepper. (Mushrooms can be done ahead of time and set aside.)
  3. Cook the pappardelle according to package directions. Drain and transfer to a serving dish.
  4. Serve the ribs over pappardelle tossed in the reduced braising liquid and mushrooms.

Main photo: Chef Ryan Swarthout’s Braised Short Ribs With Mushroom Pappardelle. Credit: Copyright 2015 courtesy of Ryan Swarthout

Zester Daily contributor Mira Advani Honeycutt is a Los Angeles-based writer/journalist and author of "California’s Central Coast, The Ultimate Winery Guide: From Santa Barbara to Paso Robles," (Chronicle Books, 2007). Honeycutt has chronicled the wine world in California, Oregon, France, Italy and Spain and written on international cinema, traveling to film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and Toronto. Her work has appeared in Harper's Bazaar (India), the Asian Wall Street Journal, KCRW, Good Food, Los Angeles Times, USA Today and the Hollywood Reporter and the Asian Tatler group.