787 Rio Del Mar Blvd., Aptos

Owner/chef Thomas Vinolus

Age: 46

Hometown: Aptos

Experience: Culinary Institute of America, New York City; business degree, University of California, San Diego.

Mentors: "The best chef I ever worked with was a hotel chef at the Hilton in Irvine. He was very talented and came into the hotel one day and fired every department head in the kitchen because they were not doing it the way he wanted. He proceeded to run the entire show that night like clockwork, all by himself."

Early inspiration: "My mom went back to school when she was 40 and it was either learn how to cook or eat out of a can. [laughs] No, really, I have always been passionate about cooking. I loved helping out in the kitchen from a very young age."

Favorite foods: Meatloaf with roasted vegetables, potatoes and pan gravy.

Most proud of: "We knew two people and had $1.78 in the bank the day we opened the restaurant. We found an old change jar stash from our college days, rolled coins and used that money to open the first day."

Bittersweet Bistro asparagus salad with Meyer lemon vinaigrette

Serves 8



1/2 cup Meyer lemon juice (can substitute generic lemons)
1 teaspoon lemon zest, chopped fine
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 dash Tabasco
Salt and pepper to taste

32 jumbo asparagus spears
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound mesclun greens
12 ounces Parmesan reggiano cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler to yield long thin strips
1 red pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded and sliced
Salt and white pepper


In a non-reactive bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, zest, mustard, Tabasco, honey and oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat oven to 500°F. Snap each asparagus spear between your hands; lightly peel the ends. Toss asparagus tips in two tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt and white pepper. Spread the spears between two preheated rimmed baking sheets; bake two minutes until spears are cooked al dente. Transfer to a chilled rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate until cold.

Cut the asparagus spears diagonally into thin oblong discs, leaving the top 2 inches of the tip intact. Toss greens and asparagus discs with 1/2 cup of vinaigrette. Divide between eight chilled plates. Top with reserved asparagus tips, shaved Parmesan cheese and sliced roasted red pepper.
Serve immediately.