Towering over a gigantic bowl of pale green butter lettuce, chef Malachi Harland gently hand-tosses the leaves with a bright citrus-and-shallot dressing. "I really can't emphasize enough the importance of fresh lettuce, what a difference that makes," he says. "That's part of what I love about being in Fresno. The farmers are right here. My chickens come from down the road. The eggs arrive in our kitchen still warm."
The son of noted Fresno chef Roy Harland, Malachi took his first restaurant job at age 12. Now, almost 20 years later, after stints in New York and San Francisco (where the San Francisco Chronicle dubbed him a "Rising Star Chef" in 2003), he has returned to his hometown as executive chef at the acclaimed Chef's Table. Here, his seasonal modern American cuisine celebrates the bounty of the valley.
We asked Malachi to create two salads for early spring. He combined soft butter lettuce with sliced radishes, avocados, and delicately poached shrimp, then tossed them all in a citrus-infused vinaigrette. A second salad of chopped cucumbers is dressed in yogurt, honey, rice vinegar, and mint. Served together, they prove that salads can be hearty enough to make a meal.
INFO: The Chef's Table ($$$; dinner Tue-Sat; Fig Garden Village, 731 W. San Jose Ave., Fresno, CA; 559/227-3200)