Ventura, CA: Where Are Our Chefs Now?

Alberto Vazquez started his mobile catering kitchen, Rock Chef Rolls, after leaving his previous position as executive chef at Mediterraneo restaurant at the Westlake Village Inn. Among the mottos painted on the 8-by-22-foot trailer: "For those about to grub, we salute you." Lisa McKinnon/The Star

By Lisa McKinnon | VCStar.com

Alberto Vazquez started his mobile catering kitchen, Rock Chef Rolls, after leaving his previous position as executive chef at Mediterraneo restaurant at the Westlake Village Inn. Among the mottos painted on the 8-by-22-foot trailer: "For those about to grub, we salute you." Lisa McKinnon/The Star

While Chad Minton readies new menus at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, two other area chefs are also settling into new gigs. We catch up with them between courses.

Alberto Vazquez: Even at Mediterraneo, the sophisticated but California-casual restaurant on the grounds of the Westlake Village Inn, Vazquez was something of a rock star, given to wearing his hair in spikes and a wallet chain dangling from underneath his black chef’s coat.

That look didn’t change much when Vazquez decided to leave the inn in favor of starting his own business, a mobile catering kitchen called Rock Chef Rolls (the tag line: High Voltage Gourmet Grub).

But the menu sure did. Gone were the artfully designed flatbread pizzas and charcuterie platters, replaced by grab-and-go dishes arranged under such thematic categories as “opening acts,” “headliners” and “encores” — Vazquez’s versions of appetizers, entrees and desserts. They include beef sandwiches slathered with mustard horseradish aioli, hot-and-cold deep fried ice cream and sweet potato fries served with dipping sauce from Bandits’ Grill & Bar.

The latter hints at the consulting work Vazquez did recently for the barbecue restaurant’s locations in Camarillo and Thousand Oaks. “We’re redoing the appetizers, salads and side dishes, but the barbecue is staying its own remarkable self,” he said.

Vazquez’s focus, meanwhile, is staying on what he calls “The Beast,” the 8-by-22-foot trailer that contains his mobile kitchen.

“I didn’t want a roach coach food truck. I wanted a serious kitchen,” Vazquez said, pointing to the array of equipment that includes two deep fryers and six-burner stove.

With several private and corporate catering events already under his studded belt, Vazquez plans to roll with The Beast to the Big 4 and Stagecoach music festivals later this month in Indio, followed by a hoped-for appearance at the Ventura County Fair.

You can’t miss him: He’ll be the guy in the eyeliner and the bandanna, standing next to the pop-out trailer window that has been painted to read, “For those about to grub, we saltue you.” (855-RCR-2011, http://www.rockchefrolls.com)

West Cooke:After closing Cooke’s Smokehouse, his midtown Ventura restaurant specializing in barbecue and wife Shoshanah’s cupcakes, Cooke helped create the menu for Zoey’s Cafe in Ventura before moving on to Zookers in Carpinteria.

And now? The aptly named Cooke is the chef at a place you might never have thought about in connection to food: The Players Club, the county’s only licensed poker room.

In business since the 1930s at 906 N. Ventura Ave. in Ventura, the cardroom is slated to move later this year to a much larger space in a remodeled former Volvo dealership at the Ventura auto mall. The site at 8250 Auto Center Drive will eventually include a restaurant and bar with a separate entrance.

Cooke is designing the new kitchen for the eatery, which will be located roughly where the dealership’s car bays used to be, he said.

Until then, you’ll find him in the kitchen at the original Players Club, serving usual-suspect dishes along with some unexpected ones, like blackened filet of salmon in puff pastry or a Surf & Turf pairing of wasabi-crusted shrimp with teriyaki-braised rib eye.

“It’s not really like working in a restaurant; it’s like I’m a creative caterer for poker players,” Cooke said with a laugh. “If someone says, at 11 at night, ‘Can you make me some chicken-fried steak?’ I say, ‘Of course.'” (653-9326, http://www.playersclubventura.com)