Are you paying attention? The momentum has started to reshape California’s Great America’s presence in the amusement park scene of California. 2018 is going to be an amazing year with the world debut of RailBlazer. From the creative minds of Rocky Mountain Construction (RMC) comes the west coast’s first single rail roller coaster and it looks incredible! For those of us with foodie minds, you might have noticed some of the impressive food events and menu offerings like Taste of Orleans and Red, White & Brews.
You do not think California’s Great America is done there, do you? The wave is in motion to redefine the entire skyline and facility. With all that enhancement comes a team of culinary executives that will help lead the way into the future.
Executive Chef Erick J. Ponce is now well into his second season with the park, so we reached out to him about the experience and where we see California’s Great America food scene heading in the future.
1) Tell us when you started with California’s Great America (CGA) as their Executive Chef and a little bit about your culinary background.
I began my journey here in March of 2016. Graduate of Scottsdale Culinary Institute. I have had the great opportunity to work in various types of businesses, such as Casino, Hotel, Fine Dining, Culinary Instructor, Zoo’s.
2) What excited you about becoming the head chef at an amusement park?
I was so excited for what type of challenges I would confront. I was reaching a point of my career where I was looking for that new challenge, and I knew that this would fulfill that rush, and it has not disappointed yet.
3) What was the first menu item in CGA that you added your own personal touch whether it be your own favorite seasoning or new way of preparation?
Well I was given the opportunity to have my hand in minor changes in the park upon my arrival. However the largest contribution thus far would have to be Maggie Browns Smokehouse. I was given the liberty to run my own recipes, and do the majority of items in that location from scratch (i.e. BBQ sauces, rubs, smokehouse beans, marinades etc.).
4) Now that you have several CGA food events under your belt (Red, White & Brews (RWB), Taste of Orleans, etc.), which menu was your favorite and why?
WOW, to pick only one…I would choose RWB. We took items and elevated them to a whole new level. With the bacon wrapped chicken hearts and the tombstone slider.
5) How have you blended your own cooking background with the specific regional tastes of California?
I believe that by utilizing the fresh ingredients that are readily available to me from this region, I am able to merge the two together. I have such an endless variety of local fruits and vegetables that we have locally from our neighboring counties that menu ideas are endless.
6) What is your favorite menu item currently in the park?
Hands down Maggie Browns Smokehouse
7) Any hints for where the food scene is moving at CGA with all the future expansion in the park?
Local, fresh, healthy, out of the box. However, most importantly to provide the guest with the best food experience.
8) What are must try Haunt and Winterfest menu items this year?
Keep your eyes on the sweets for sure. We are bringing new items and making a few crazy changes on the old!
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