Angela Cotta is the chef and owner of Cotta's Kitchen, 833 East Main St., Turlock.
Q. What is your favorite thing to cook and why?
A. "My favorite things to cook are those that are seasonal and deep rooted in my heritage. In the fall and winter, when there's a chill in the air, I love cooking up a big pot of polenta and pairing it with braised short ribs, sausage and peppers, or a savory beef stew — this is a tradition that my family feasts on every Christmas Eve. When the weather starts warming up, I enjoy heading to our local farm stands and hand-picking my produce. Whatever looks ripe and smells delicious is what inspires the menu for the week. One of my favorites is an Italian panzanella salad — sun-kissed tomatoes, house made croutons, sliced red onion, shaved pecorino cheese, lots of basil and a red wine vinaigrette that makes all of the ingredients sing in harmony. This dish is fresh, vibrant, and absolutely delicious!"
Q. How do you set out to make up a new dish?
A. "First and foremost, it begins with the best local ingredients that are available throughout the different seasons. This year I had the most generous local farmers reach out to me and share their fabulous crops. The DiGiovannis brought in fresh peaches and sweet potatoes, which sparked lots of delicious creativity. The Gemperle's farm-fresh eggs were the base to wonderful mushroom, bacon and gruyere quiches. The TeVeldes shared their gorgeous figs with us that were almost too beautiful to eat — I said, "almost!" And Cotta Family Farms provides the restaurant with a plethora of almonds and walnuts that are used for products such as our black and white almond toffee crunch (AKA: "Crack!"), toasted chopped almonds in an orange scented honey, and maple walnuts. Once these farm-fresh ingredients are at my fingertips, the experimenting begins. When the new creations have been born, that's when my taste testers earn their keep! The Central Valley is a cornucopia of fresh ingredients, and I'm a firm believer in using what's available to us, not only because it tastes so much better when it's picked, prepared and plated, but because it supports our local farmers. You won't see me using Marcona almonds from Spain, tomatoes from Mexico, or butter from Oregon; it doesn't make sense to me."
Q. What's your biggest challenge at work?
A. "I'm not going to lie — the organization is a big challenge. Everything from planning the weekly menu, to shopping, prepping, advertising, cooking, cleaning, paperwork — the list just goes on and on. Every Monday I make a weekly to-do list, not only for myself, but for my wonderful team of workers. Once all of us are on the same page, well, that's half the battle. And I have to add, it helps a whole heck of a lot to have such a dedicated group of people to work with. We might be small, but we're mighty!"
Q. How did you get started in the restaurant business?
A. "I've always loved to cook. When I lived in Los Angeles my home was always where friends would gather for special celebrations. There was never an empty seat at our dining table. We embraced the coming together around a home-cooked meal. Once I moved back to my roots, I eventually started to cater and share my homemade recipes. Fortunately, there have been several wonderful families in our community that have embraced my passion, customers that are as loyal as the day is long. Cotta's Kitchen exists today because of their support and constant cheerleading on my behalf."
Q. What change would you like to see happen in Turlock in the next five years?
A. "I can't say I'd necessarily want to see it change. What I would like to see is that it stay the same charming, gracious, all-American town that I've grown to love. Over the next five years, I'd like to see our community continue to support the wonderful establishments that cater to the arts, such as the Turlock Community Theatre and the Carnegie Center. I would like to see our schools continue to provide a top-notch education for our youth. I would like to see the traditions that have been established in our town continue, such as the wonderful holiday festivities. I would like to see businesses flourish, but at the same time, have Turlock remain the quaint community it is known to be. I've lived all over the state, and travelled around the world, and in the end my husband and I chose Turlock to build a life. I think that speaks volumes to what I think of our community."
Q. What do you think Turlock should be most proud of?
A. "I believe our community is one of the most gracious, philanthropic towns anywhere. We've seen it time and time again, whenever someone in our community is in need, people come out of the woodworks to help. I feel like the luckiest girl on the planet to be able to live in a city like this. And to have a business on Main Street, USA, well that is simply a dream come true."
Q. What do you like to do for fun?
A. "I love to travel — Pismo Beach and the Napa Valley are two places my husband, Kit, and I frequent when we get a couple of days to spare. And when I can combine traveling with a mean game of Texas Hold 'Em, that's when I'm a real happy camper!"
Q. What was the last thing you read?
A. "Besides my City of Turlock Municipal bill? Let's see..oh, I recently gave my Dad a unique birthday gift. It is a book compiled of newspaper articles and magazine clippings from the year he was born. His birth year was an interesting one, as it was right in the midst of World War 2 (sorry, Dad... I just aged you!). I had an absolute ball reading through that book."
Q. What is one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?
A. "In my previous life as a Los Angeles film composer, I had the opportunity to stand in front of an 80-piece orchestra at the Warner Brother's Sound Stage, and conduct several pieces of original music. It is something for which I am very proud."