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Meet Stella’s New Chef Chris Watkins

Stella’s new chef Chris Watkins calls on California-grown and sourced fare and intertwines modern techniques.

Chef, dad, snowboarder and seasonal ingredient craftsman Chris Watkins is shaping an all-new Stella menu. Here’s what we’re stoked for.

Stella inside Gravity Haus Truckee-Tahoe celebrates local farmers and wood-fired cooking with a focus on fresh, wholesome, flavorful food.

Executive Chef Chris Watkins took the helm at Stella inside Gravity Haus Truckee-Tahoe last month, bringing decades of experience and innovation to the 49-seat farm-focused restaurant.

Watkins is currently shaping the progressive menu experience with regionally sourced seafood, ranch fare, California produce and surprise elements, aspiring to reveal Stella’s new winter menu by Christmas. 

“Stella’s atmosphere, wood-fired oven and open-kitchen format really drew me in,” he says. “It’s small and cozy and reminds me of family. Stella has always been one of our favorite places in Truckee. It’s a lot of people’s favorite; so I have big shoes to fill.”

The father of two grew up in San Luis Obispo, landing in Breckenridge at age 22 and working his way from dishwasher to sous chef within a short year at Breckenridge Brewery. Colleagues urged him to attend culinary school and Watkins headed to Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Portland. He then interned at a restaurant in Switzerland before spending the next decade honing his craft in San Francisco at restaurants like Coi by famed chef Daniel Patterson and the coveted mod-French Jardiniere.

Realizing every moment outside of the kitchen was spent commuting to and chasing powder in Tahoe, Watkins jumped at the opportunity when a friend called and asked if he’d like to cook at local French-inspired lakefront spot Christy Hill. He came to work for the spring and never left. That was 12 years ago. 

He’s always held a hopeful spot on his resume for Stella. And now, that dream has been realized. 

Watkins is working closely with his team of three chefs to cultivate a progressive menu at Stella, one that begins with smaller bites to share among loved ones and leads into premium beef, seafood and vegetarian plates paired with an impressive worldly wine list, playful brews and creative desserts. His menu will impart California-meets-Mediterranean flair, leaning away from Stella’s former Latin nods. 

The upcoming menu will highlight locally farmed sweet and savory fermented black garlic served as an aioli with seared Spanish octopus, crispy fried fingerlings and sake-cured cucumber. Stella works with Kanaloa Seafood Market out of Santa Barbara to source sustainable seafood and proudly serves only the freshest, mindfully caught fish.

A 28-day dry-aged Flannery Beef steak will be pan-seared and finished over embers in the wood-fired oven for a smoky-charred flavor.

Crispy cauliflower will shine with nasturtiums and pink peppercorn, candied pistachios and peppery micro cilantro and the wood-fired oven will play a part in a charred salad served with white anchovy herb Caesar dressing, purple ninja radishes and toasted sunflower seeds.

Drooling yet? Stay tuned for the full winter menu to roll out at Stella this month!

Stella inside Gravity Haus Truckee-Tahoe celebrates local farmers and wood-fired cooking with a focus on fresh, wholesome, flavorful food.

Q. Best class in culinary school?

A. There was an herbs and spices class and the final was a blind taste test. We smelled and tasted each herb and named them while blindfolded. It was so educational, using our other senses to experience food.

Q. Favorite ingredient to work with?

A. Scallops are at the top of my list. They’re beautiful. You get this really amazing sear on the outside bringing out the sweetness and creaminess on the inside. They just have a great flavor and texture.

Q. What can guests expect from Stella this winter? 

A. I want to get the kitchen more involved with the dining room; have chefs help deliver food, come out of the kitchen and talk with guests about the dishes.

Q. What do you want Stella to be known for?

A. Good wine and great dining in a warm atmosphere. Seasonally driven menus built from trips to the farmers market (a two-block walk from Stella) and our chef’s garden in the back of the restaurant where we grow flowers — lots of nasturtiums and sunflowers — herbs and a few veggies.

Q. You have the day off. Where can you be found?

A. In the spring, my family and I are hiking to waterfalls and spending time at the lake all summer barbecuing and paddleboarding. In the winter, we’re snowboarding.

STELLA HOURS

Breakfast | 7 am – 11 am , daily

Dinner | 5 pm – 9 pm, Weds-Sun

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