Every Sunday morning, chef Jean-Pierre Dubray prepares crepes for his family. It’s a tasty weekly ritual for sure, but it also has the added benefit of keeping some of Dubray’s traditional French roots alive. As the executive chef for The Resort at Pelican Hill — a Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star property in California’s Newport Coast that embodies the essence of a small Tuscan village — Dubray, a Loire Valley native, is immersed in the sounds and smells of Italy every day. The fourth annual Festa Dell’Autunno (October 10-12) is a three-day harvest season extravaganza at Pelican Hill filled with visual arts shows, street performers and Italian cuisine showcases. Rather than continue keeping his crepes from his carpaccio, though, chef Dubray embraces them both in life and in interviews such as this one, where he speaks with equal gaiety for his French upbringing and the glorious Italian festival that’s about to commence.
For the folks who’ve never attended Festa, what have they been missing?
A good time with a lot of good entertainment, good food and good wine. Each year, we continue to upgrade and make it a feature event. The response has been fabulous. We always have good weather. It’s just a very, very festive time.
What aspect of Festa are you most excited about?
It’s exciting because it’s actually quite a bit of an undertaking. And the execution, as we get closer to the days of the Festa, [is important]. This year for the first time we have a chef coming in from Italy. That’s going to be great because I always love to entertain chefs. His name is [Massimiliano] Mascia and he comes from Ristorante San Domenico [in Imola]. He’s doing a fabulous menu. That’s going to be on the first night at Andrea. We’re very excited to have somebody new in our kitchen, somebody that’s bringing new ideas and new things that we can take on for the rest of the year. And then the big event is Saturday. It’s just like a real street festival like you’d have in Italy. We bring some great entertainment, some great food and great wine. We have six different stations of food from different regions of Italy.
You speak very highly of Italian cuisine. In what ways have other cultures influenced your cooking?
I’m French and I’m an American citizen, so I get the best of both countries. But yes, my background is in France. I grew up in Loire Valley, which is a very [food-centric] region of France. I moved to the United States when I was 21. I opened several [restaurants in] hotels around the world. My training was French cooking, for sure. But with all my years of experience, I have experienced a lot of different kinds of cuisine. And the last six years, I’ve worked with some great Italian chefs and I continue to work with them, that way we’re making sure the result is very Tuscany and represents Italy.
You mentioned Andrea earlier. You oversee that kitchen and every other one at Pelican Hill. Just how difficult is that task?
It is a big job. But success comes with having the right people under me that will be doing the different cuisines. I’m very fortunate to have Marco [Criscuolo]. He’s a fantastic chef. He’s working very diligently. He’s enthusiastic and he’s a young chef that wants to create not only the classic dishes but also experiment and take Italian cuisine to another level. My main job is to work with them to express their talent but also to make sure that we always stay within the concept of the food. I need to make sure each concept is followed to a T.
When did you know that cooking was your passion?
When I was 10 years old. Like I mentioned earlier, I come from a very agricultural part of France. I used to cook with my mother for the big Sunday meal. I used to work with my father on Saturday and any other day to basically grow produce. We used to make our own wine. We’d make cider. When I grew up, food came from our land. When I was 10, I was cooking in the kitchen. One time, I burned myself when I was five years old. They said, “Stay out of the stove,” but that was me already.
What seafood and produce do you love seeing most in fall?
I love each season, but I particularly love autumn and winter because their produce are very much from the ground. In summer, you have the beans and tomatoes above ground. In winter, you have the beets and the root vegetables. I love all kinds of garnishes. I like parsnips and squashes. We’re very fortunate here because we can get many different types of squash. It’s an exciting time of the year. Of course, because we’re an Italian house, we get the white truffles [from Alba, Italy] probably at the end of October, right around the end of Festa. Every year, we do a big promotion of white truffles. We’re probably the No. 1 truffle consumer in Southern California. We buy a lot of white truffles. They’re very expensive, of course, but we give our guests a chance to try it.
When you’re not worrying about truffle shipments and menus, how do you unwind?
Well, I have three children. I have a son that is 12 years old and twin girls that are nine years old. My priority, at the age that they are, is to spend as much time as possible with them. Obviously, being an executive chef takes a lot of time away from my family. But when I have some free time, I love to be with my kids and play with them. I educate them and even cook with them. But also, for myself, I like biking. I like to do things outside. Biking in Southern California is good for my head.
Have any of your children shown an interest in cooking?
Oh yes, all of them — for certain things. My son always says he’d like to become a chef because he is a particular eater. They like to participate, even if it’s peeling vegetables. One of my little girls is very much into it, and she wants to help as much as she can. It’s funny to see them because sometimes, when me and my wife make dinner, they want to serve us. They set the table, take our orders and do all the things like in a restaurant.