Edible Monterey Bay

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Carmel's Casanova lures new chefs from Santa Cruz and Monterey

Following the departure of Executive Chef John Cox to head Post Ranch Inn’s kitchen, Carmel’s beloved Casanova and La Bicyclette restaurants are reorganizing the top tiers of talent in their kitchens.

Johnny DeVivoAs executive chef, Casanova has tapped John DeVivo from TusCA restaurant in Monterey’s Hyatt Regency Hotel. DeVivo comes from a family of cooks, and ran Scaldoni, his family’s restaurant, in St. George, Utah. He also served as sous chef at the one-Michelin-star Alize at the Palms Hotel in Las Vegas.

Brad Briske

Joining him as sous chef at Casanova is Santa Cruz’s Brad Briske, who gained an ardent following among devotees of locally sourced, artisanal foods when he headed the kitchen at Main Street Garden Café in Soquel. The young chef is also known for his time as sous chef at Santa Cruz’s popular Gabriella Café, which has emphasized local and organic ingredients since opening 20 years ago.

Meantime, Casanova and La Bicyclette veteran James Anderson will stay on as chef de cuisine at Casanova, while former Casanova chef Christophe Bonywill move over to be chef de cuisine at the less formal and equally popular and European-inflected La Bicyclette.

“This gives us a chance to renew ourselves,” says owner Gaston Georis, addingthat Casanova—which is known for its romantic Mediterranean atmosphere as well as its food and wine—will continue to serve rustic French and Italian cuisine based primarily on fresh ingredients available in our area.

“John is a delightful addition to a fine mix of talent that we have at our restaurants,” he says. “He’s an energetic person, he comes from that close Italian family tradition and he has operated his own restaurant—so that’s very important for us.”

DeVivo, who starts July 16th, has been in Monterey at the Hyatt Regency since October 2010.

“I didn’t really expect to get this job,” says DeVivo. “I wrote a tasting menu formy tryout two weeks ago, but when I saw what was in the refrigerator I tore it up. There were so many incredible ingredients, like porcini mushrooms, morels and giant fresh figs—it was a chef’s dream!”

He ended up preparing, among other things: a roasted beet and fig salad; a risotto with mascarpone, lobster, porcini and black truffles; and a roast branzino with pancetta and artichoke sauce.

“It’s really exciting for me,” he says of his new gig at Casanova. “The chefs there are really talented, passionate guys, so I hope to complement their strengths and make a super power.”

Briske, who began work at Casanova on July 1, is best known for his mouth-watering charcuterie and was actually hired by John Cox before he left last month.

“John came into the Main Street Garden Bistro one quiet night last October and asked me to prepare whatever I thought was best,” recalls Briske, who evidently impressed Cox, who is an extremely creative and skilled chef himself, with his homemade artisan charcuterie and a whole fried rock cod. “After the meal we started talking and he told me he was also a chef and that I could have a job with him whenever I wanted.”

While awaiting the arrival of the new executive chef, Briske says he’s already started putting some of his signature touches on the dishes at Casanova, like making brines for the chicken and using salt rubs on grilled meats. He will also be preparing charcuterie for both Casanova and La Bicyclette.

He says a big challenge of the new position is to adapt to the huge volume of meals that Casanova serves up every day and the big staff in the kitchen. “It’s a good opportunity for me—the number of restaurants that support local foods in Santa Cruz is very small and they already have great, young chefs, so going to Carmel is a step in the right direction for me,” he says.

For now, Briske will continue to live in Santa Cruz and make the commute to Carmel, which he says gives him quiet time to dream up new dishes.

Gaston Georis and his brother Walter, both originally from Belgium, have built a highly regarded gastronomic empire over the past thirty years that includes, Casanova and La Bicyclette restaurants in Carmel, as well as the Georis Winery and Corkscrew Café in Carmel Valley. Gaston’s son Gabe Georis owns Mundaka, a popular Carmel tapas restaurant that emphasizes local and sustainable ingredients.

As an avid supporter of sustainably produced local foods, Gaston is a member of the advisory board of the new outdoor Carmel Market, which will feature the bounty of local farmers and chefs and is set to launch in September.

About the author

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Deborah Luhrman is publisher and editor of Edible Monterey Bay. A lifelong journalist, she has reported from around the globe, but now prefers covering our flourishing local food scene and growing her own vegetables in the Santa Cruz Mountains.