Category Archives: California’s Great America

Interview: California’s Great America Executive Chef Erick J. Ponce

California's Great America Executive Chef Erick J. Ponce

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.

170528 California's Great America Red White Brews Tombstone Slider ©Mike Rumble

©Mike Rumble Inside CGA

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

170331 California's Great America Maggie's Smokehouse & Fried Chicken Kickin’ Chicken Sandwich ©Inside CGA

©Mike Rumble Inside CGA

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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Review: California’s Great America Chicken Caesar Wrap

170811 California's Great America Chicken Caesar Wrap ©Mike Rumble (1)

The California’s Great America dining plans offer a variety of different menu options. One of everyone’s favorite choices we hear a lot of feedback on is the famous Maggie’s chicken and smokehouse. However, another menu item in the park we have heard a lot of great feedback on is the chicken Caesar wraps from Andre’s Chicken Shack in the Food Festival and Croc Canteen in Boomerang Bay.

The meal starts with crispy, fried chicken tenders placed on a tortilla. The wrap is then accompanied with sliced tomatoes and a Caesar salad before being wrapped tightly and sliced in half. The meal is accompanied with an order of fries.

There is something to be said for taking standard menu items and jazzing them up and the wrap is the perfect way to do that.

The crispy chicken plays nicely off of the tomato and lettuce and the Caesar dressing gives the meal a nice added flavor.

If you tried the chicken Caesar wraps from California’s Great America, let us know your feedback below in the comments.

170811 California's Great America Chicken Caesar Wrap ©Mike Rumble (2)

A special thanks goes out to Mike from Inside CGA (Facebook/Instagram) for helping us coordinate this review.

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2017 California’s Great America Demon Re-Ignited Haunt Teaser

170619 California's Great America Demon Re-Ignited Logo

Original Teaser Logo (June 2017) ©California’s Great America

The running joke is that planning for Haunt starts as soon as the previous years event is over, and in a way, it is true. The teams at each of the parks plan year round for the Haunt festivities, and California’s Great America made a brief teaser back in early June that was later deleted for what we can expect when Haunt starts September 22, 2017.

When the Demon roller coaster first opened in 1976 by Arrow Dynamics at California’s Great America, it was under a different name and layout then we all know it today. By the 1979 season, the ride was re-themed with rock work, lighting, music and formerly underwent the name change to the Demon.

Throughout the Demon roller coaster’s history, various elements have gone “missing,” but the underlying spirit of the classic ride remained.

Over the summer a logo popped up on social media with a “Demon Re-Ignited” theme with a note that this is a new Haunt project. So what could it mean?

Demon Re-Ignited Possibilities

At the time of the teaser, we foresaw two possible paths for Demon Re-Ignited.

1) California’s Great America could re-ignite some of the original themed elements of the ride. This would include fog in the tunnels, blood red colored water falling out of the rock formation by the corkscrew and a unique logo. To really solidify the new theme, the park could bring back a remastered soundtrack with additional storyline elements.

2) As the parks move into a new era of how the guests consume entertainment, Haunt could be a good time to test out the new virtual reality (VR) technology to help tell the story. Guests have the option of either riding the Demon Re-Ignited with or without the VR headgear.

After extensive testing of the VR system on roller coasters at both Canada’s Wonderland and Cedar Point, ride operators have gotten extremely efficient at making sure the VR experience does not interfere with the guests wait. Testing the system during Haunt would allow the park to see how the system as a whole handles the change.

We were hesitant at trying a VR experience on a roller coaster, but having done so, it is an extremely FUN way to ride and give the guest a new experience.

Our Prediction

We asked some of the local fan experts for their thoughts of the new Demon Re-Ignited at California’s Great America.

CGA Weekly– “When Demon Re-Ignited was first posted, I was very excited because I believed it would mean the old effects were returning.”

HangTime News– “I first thought of how the Demon at Six Flags Great America is ‘enhanced’ during Fright Fest, so I thought that the CGA version could be enhanced with fixed lighting and special effects to set the Halloween tone.”

Most people’s guess at the time would be a launch of VR on Demon. However, we did not see that being feasible for Demon Re-Ignited.

Demon: Reignited Announced

170824 California's Great America Demon Re-Ignited Logo

Official Logo (August 2017) ©California’s Great America

While we did not run this story when it originally “leaked,” it now has officially been announced that Demon: Reignited will return the lights, fog, music and blood-red waterfall to the iconic Demon roller coaster. We are excited to see the return of the original thematic elements that give the roller coaster some of its former glory gory effects, and what better time to implement them then during Haunt.

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