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Meet the Chef

Meet Executive Chef Kirsten Ponza

Kirsten has already achieved two pinnacles in her career that could make her the envy of many. She rose from Pastry Chef to Executive Chef at the award-winning Chaminade Resort & Spa in just 10 years.  And, she toured with The Rolling Stones.

Impressive stuff, especially since both are hard-driving worlds dominated by men, but Kirsten’s killer combination of energy, creativity and efficiency quickly muscled her into the upper echelon of Santa Cruz’s culinary scene.

Kirsten graduated with a Culinary Management degree from Fanshawe College in London, Ontario in 2001, and two years later, moved to Santa Cruz and joined Chaminade as Pastry Chef when ‘I fell in love.  First with a man, then with the place!  Now I’m married to both!’

A year later, Kirsten was offered a Tour Chef position for The Rolling Stones, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hit the road with a portable kitchen and four other chefs to prepare all the meals for the band, entourage and crew.  Not one to ‘cook and tell,’ Kirsten will confess that she made ‘way too many Shepherd’s Pies and Caesar salads,’ but adds that the legendary rockers are so health conscious that they even have a traveling gym.

‘Moving forward’ as Kirsten is often heard to say, she rejoined Chaminade as a PM Cook III in 2006.  Her new title was less glamorous, but the work was equally rigorous, as her responsibilities and skills were ever-increasing, earning her regular promotions through the ranks and the nickname KP, which besides being her initials, ‘stands for Kitchen Patrol in the military, so it just stuck!’  In September 2012, Kirsten was named Executive Sous Chef and just thirteen months later, was appointed Executive Chef.

Dedicated, loyal and generous with advice, Kirsten encourages future cooks to ‘try it before you buy it.  Cooking isn’t like what you see on TV.  Just imagine the opposite of the Food Network shows and you won’t be disappointed!’ Known for her pro-active and positive management style in the kitchen, Kirsten often tells her team to ‘get it fixed before you worry about how it broke.’

Kirsten is deeply inspired by David Kinch, Chef-Proprietor of the highly-acclaimed Manresa Restaurant in Los Gatos and the winner of the Best Chef in America award for the Pacific Region from the James Beard Foundation, revered for his ingredient-driven cooking, modern techniques and fervor for sustainability.  Kirsten’s passion for local produce extends beyond work as her hobbies include gardening and foraging and she is anxious to introduce a prix fixe dinner menu ‘focusing not just on local ingredients, but on the locals themselves.’

Chaminade’s popular Farm to Table Series will continue to diversify under Kirsten’s guidance and enthusiasm as her dream is ‘to create events geared to bring in artisanal everything; including beer, wine, farmers, butchers and musicians.’ As an added bonus, Kirsten looks forward to ‘finally getting to put faces to people!  After spending so much time in the kitchen, it’s really great to talk one-on-one with people who just want to eat, drink and be merry!’

And way, way down the road, Kirsten dreams of owning her very own food truck. ‘I can see myself driving into my retirement that way!  I still have to figure out the focus of what to make as I have too many ideas right now to narrow it to just one or two.  Once I figure that out though, I’ll start the wheels rolling!’