In 2003, the beauty of Big Sur found Justin Robarge trading East Coast for Central Coast. As the new sous chef for Deetjen’s, he soon became immersed in his newfound culinary community and admired local chefs – like Montrio Bistro’s Tony Baker.
Fifteen years later, Robarge has now joined the Montrio team as Baker’s second in command, fulfilling a longtime dream to work at the legendary local restaurant. “There’s a level of passion here that’s second to none. The longevity, continuity and consistency come from passion and communication, doing it as one team,” Robarge says.
Weekly: What’s the most important tool in your kitchen?
Robarge: There are a few things I religiously do when I walk into the kitchen: I get my pen, my Sharpie, my thermometer, my chef knife and my steel. No matter what I’m approaching that day, I’m going to need those items. I’ve always said my chef knife is just an extension of my arm.
People say bacon makes everything better. Is that going too far?
I think for a long time it was underrated. It’s one of those food items I probably put in my mouth every single day of the week. It’s got flavor, fat and protein. I love the versatility of it too.
Is that your favorite ingredient?
I’m stuck between two: bones or butter. But I went with butter. I’m more classically French trained. I use too much at home. [laughs] It’s one of my main go-tos.
So bacon and butter. Anything else?
Mirepoix: classic carrot, onion, celery. It has so many killer good uses. It gives you aromatics, it gives you good flavor, it gives you rounding.
What do you see too much of?
Garlic. It’s a great ingredient, but I think people tend to overuse it and it’s overpowering.