Chef Celeste Walker has a twinkle in her eye and it’s obvious to even the casual observer she loves what she does. She took over the Bel Vino Bistro at Bel Vino Winery in early 2017 and she has put her stamp on it. Growing up on Maui, she loved watching her parents cook. As soon as she was able, she found her way into the kitchen and began learning the ropes. She left the islands and headed to Las Vegas when she was 20 and graduated from the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts.
She moved to the Temecula Valley because the area was “up and coming” and she wanted to be closer to family. She actually began her stint at Bel Vino as a server. When she learned the position of Executive Chef was available, she rushed over. She says her menu is “not very ordinary. When I put some flavors together, I always get the ‘really?’ ” She loves that she has everything at her fingertips, from the Bel Vino wines she uses in her dishes to the freshest of ingredients. “We have everything here!”
When we joined her for lunch, she started us off with house made potato chips with garlic aioli followed by Hawaiian Pulled Pork Egg Rolls. The chips were crunchy and delicious and the egg rolls crisp on the outside and tender and moist in the middle. Both paired wonderfully with Bel Vino’s Grand Reserve Chardonnay.
Next up came the meatball fritters, made with Italian sausage and beef with a Ciliegine mozzarella ball in the center. They’re then breaded and deep-fried and served atop a spicy tomato sauce. Incredible. Her prosciutto flatbread has a nut-free basil pesto base and features white wine caramelized onions, parmesan and goat cheese, a red wine balsamic glaze with arugula and truffle oil. She gives her husband credit for helping her come up with the idea. It’s a wonderful bite with the flavors marrying magically.
It’s not clear where appetizers ended and entrees started. Celeste presented us with a roast beef sandwich. Let me tell you right off the bat the name doesn’t do it justice at all. Thin slices of premium beef are topped with house-made crispy onions, provolone cheese, horseradish mayonnaise and arugula on a Sadie Rose focaccia bun. Served with chef’s “secret” jus made from scratch with herbs and other items she wasn’t about to tell me, the sandwich is a masterpiece. “You’ll be craving that” she said and as a matter of fact I could go for one right now.
I asked her what experience she hopes her guests will have and she replied she wants them to walk away with a smile and satisfaction. She’s hand-picked her crew of three and they all share the same mindset. No big egos are allowed. All are eager to learn and eventually earn the title of chef. She was given carte blanche in making her menu and has done a masterful job with it.
She wasn’t quite done yet. She brought out a gorgeous baked Brie; a mini Brie wheel with a red wine and honey berry sauce and fresh berries served with baguette slices. So decadent and such a nice way to finish off our meal.
Bel Vino Bistro is open Friday through Sunday and stays open until 10pm on live music Fridays. She hopes the bistro will be open five days a week in the near future. Stop by Bel Vino Bistro and see for yourself what chef Celeste has created. I’m confident you will leave happy but not hungry. 33515 Rancho California Road in Temecula.
Tom Plant launched WINEormous in 2009 and is a member of the International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association. Based in Temecula, California, he offers intimate winery tours for no more than seven people. Tour details and pricing are available at www.temecula-tours.com. Call now to book your Temecula Winery Tour at (951) 907-9701. Ask about special discounts.