Invited to participate in a virtual Q-and-A under vague circumstances, the duo behind Bell’s in Los Alamos felt less in the dark after a surprise guest hopped on the call.
“They had all these fake technical difficulties and then the U.S. director of Michelin called on the video meeting to announce that we had been awarded one star for our restaurant,” said Greg Ryan, who co-owns Bell’s with his wife and executive chef, Daisy Ryan.
Greg and Daisy were sitting at home during the congratulatory call, which hasn’t stopped feeling surreal to the couple in the weeks since.
“I think even after a month we are still trying to process it,” Greg said.
Part of why the win feels so dreamy is thanks to how many times the Ryans have used Michelin to discover the most alluring eateries for themselves to experience.
“I remember mostly using it when we were in New York in 2006 when we had first moved there,” Greg said. “It was fun to try and find one-star and two-star restaurants.”
Some of the couple’s fave Michelin inductees on the East Coast are the Bib Gourmand, which Greg called the absolute best option for “someone who didn’t have a lot of money when moving to New York,” and the Momofuku Noodle Bar.
While both Greg, a Portland, Oregon, native, and Daisy, a Santa Ynez native, spent their formative culinary years in New York City, the couple eventually chose to settle down on the Central Coast for two main reasons.
“Daisy and I moved to this area to raise our son, and it felt like a great place to open up a restaurant where we could do really whatever we wanted,” said Greg, whose reasoning behind starting Bell’s, a French-inspired bistro the couple established in 2018, was “we just wanted to do something on our own.”
“We have worked in what many would call ‘pretentious’ dining, and while we enjoy working in very strict and regimented restaurants, we felt like by providing a certain style and level of professionalism in a restaurant, while also making it feel as genuine as possible, that we would have an opportunity to succeed,” Greg said.
One of the many compliments featured in Michelin’s write-up of Bell’s is praise for “their unpretentious dishes”—some of which you’re bound to find accompanied by sides of potato chips, saltine crackers, pickles, or french fries.
“People want to be taken care of while also eating fries. It just better be one of the best fries that they ever had,” Greg said.
The Michelin Guide also stated “this is cooking that tastes as good as it looks.”
Greg said that Daisy’s secret to striking that balance in the kitchen boils down to “make it nice and don’t overthink it,” while allowing the produce and the products to speak for themselves.
On many occasions though, the couple will also take cues of inspiration from their various interests outside the world of cooking.
“I think Daisy and I have a ton of different interests that dissolve into the restaurant profession. We like music, fashion, design, etc.,” Greg said. “The way that Daisy cooks a lot of times is that she thinks about how colors and a plate will look and then starts to try and understand what flavor profiles will make the most sense.”
Outside the surreal reaction that continues to linger in response to their Michelin rating, the Ryans feel especially excited for the extra credibility this accolade will not only bring to their restaurant and staff members, but the Central Coast food scene in general.
“Everyone on our staff’s résumé can write down that they have worked in a Michelin-starred restaurant, which, if they do decide to move on from here, will be able to give them a leg up going forward,” Greg said. “This kind of recognition will hopefully continue to inspire and convince others living in other areas and states to move to a place like the Central Coast and open something that has intent and creativity.
“If we can just be a small part of that kind of movement for our profession, then all the time and work and effort is worth it.”
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