Studio Visit with Chef Gabe Woo
by Nalani Hernandez-Melo
I recently had the privilege to meet and indulge in a full tasting of Chef Gabe Woo’s menu at The Barn Kitchen located inside Palm Spring’s Sparrows Lodge. The intimate 20-room hotel is the perfect escape from today’s technological hustle and bustle and not your typical vacation getaway. There are no televisions or telephones in any the rooms however, there are ample lounging opportunities throughout the grounds and not to mention the impeccable fire pit at the center of the courtyard.
With a playlist ranging from Sam Smith to Jimi Hendrix the dimly lit front desk/lounge/dinning room has the cozy reminiscent feeing of a relative’s mountain cabin. What caught my attention was the matter in which every small detail came into play from the hotel to the kitchen – every thing had a purpose. A concept. Gabe even “blesses” certain dishes with sage creating a ceremonial opening to one’s dinner experience… Being the craftsman that he is, Gabe sees each dish as more than food on a plate. Each dish is an opportunity to elevate techniques and more importantly ingredients into a piece that brings culinary pleasure to someone. As artists we’re given validation and gratification from witnessing how our work can affect others. This is why during dinner service Gabe’s favorite thing is to peek through the kitchen door window and watch people eat his food. It brings the young chef great joy and excitement to see the blissful expressions as they bite into what they assume to be “just another burger”.
Nalani: The state of food now is that people are trying so much to push envelopes and make everything so different than when you try something that is a burger, but then it’s really…
Gabe: Just make it really good.
Nalani: Perfectly executed burger. How did you come to think about the buns – coming up with a unique bun for your burger?
Gabe: Just going out and having burgers. I actually got to a point where I don’t even like burger. I don’t know if I really don’t like burgers or there is this just something about them and that turned to be the thing. They try to make a burger really good but putting more ingredients like avocado, mushrooms, Swiss but the bun never holds up to it. It falls apart. I don’t know. When Andy from Townie Bakery came by, I was talking about my woes. He said “I have a perfect bun for you.” It’s called, what do you call it? A bulkie? It’s a kind of a Pennsylvanian Dutch roll.
Nalani: I see chefs as artists. Do you feel like you’re an artist yourself?
Gabe: Yeah. In that medium, yeah. It’s definitely everything pops, colors, shapes, everything I do is like an art I guess in that sense. I call my plating style… I don’t know. I’m forgetting what it’s called. It looks like you’re not doing it on purpose.
Nalani: What fuels your passion to be a chef?
Gabe: It’s so instantly rewarding. It’s that. It is mostly that. You see people and it’s good. You get instant gratification. “Yes, they love it.” You can see in their face. I always peek to that window, always looking at when they’re biting. Just that little nod and they say, “Oh, good.” I’m like, “Yes!” When the plates come back, I look at the plates. “What did they say? Why didn’t they want these? They don’t like it?” The servers are like, “No, they liked it. They’re just full. They’ve had too much,” but it’s seeing some gratification. It’s so rewarding, the work. You put in the hours and the time and it comes out good. But then let’s say if you burn something, it’s so tragic.
Gabe is a true craftsmen’s craftsman. He fashions his own mediums from scratch provoking them to flourish on a plate. From pickling his own produce to dehydrating his own custom spice blends Gabe is always challenging himself to expand his repertoire while still having fun in the kitchen. When most talented young artists dream of spreading their creative wings and moving to iconic cities like New York, San Francisco or our neighboring Los Angeles, Gabe has planted his roots deeply in his hometown. Having grown up in the Coachella Valley Gabe takes pride in his role in helping cultivate the food culture of the Valley and is excited to see the scene evolve. Sharing this same enthusiasm, we are honored to have met Gabe Woo, who in our eyes is the CV’s very own culinary craftsman and a new friend.
If you’re ever in need for some quiet time or in the mood for a killer burger all while cozied up to a blazing fire check out The Barn Kitchen at The Sparrows Lodge. And if Gabe is in, don’t be shy – say what’s up and mention Caleb and Nalani sent you.
The Barn Kitchen is located at 1330 E Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92264 – 21+ Over. Open daily to the public for lunch until 6pm. Dinner is only served on the weekends and is reservations-only so call ahead to reserve your spot.