Featured in the April 2015 edition of Inland Empire Magazine
Temecula’s Europa Village Chef Dean Thomas grew up around Chicago, beginning his career as a teen-age assistant for an Italian chef. “I was 14, and I started by washing dishes. His cook didn’t show up one day, and he said ‘You! Come over here!’ He put me on the line and I’ve been there ever since.”
Inspired by his Italian mentor, Chef Dominic Bourgali, Thomas studied culinary arts at Joliet Junior College. Afterward, he embarked on his culinary travels, teaching in Vermont and working at resorts and hotels in Hilton Head, South Carolina; Tucson, Arizona; U.S. Virgin Islands; and San Diego County before arriving in Temecula in 2009.
Since 2011, he has been at Europa Village, serving as Executive Chef for the Inn at Europa Village and special events catered at Europa Village itself, which features wines in the style of France, Italy, and Spain.
Thomas and his wife, Nicole, are the Europa Village Innkeepers, presiding over the 10-room bed and breakfast hotel with a sweeping view of the Temecula Valley. Thomas has his own herb garden and fruit trees a few yards from his kitchen to add fresh ingredients to his cuisine.
“I have blood oranges, Meyer lemons, kumquats, tangerines, pomelo, grapefruit, fig, peaches, Asian pears, persimmons, avocados, pomegranates, apples and more. It’s a chef’s dream,” he says.
He also has an additional vegetable garden nearby. “My father always had a garden,” Thomas says, “and taught me there’s nothing better than growing my own.”
He pairs food with the Europa Village wines and pours a little in his dishes.
“I use the wines in our breakfast a lot of times – I’ll poach pears in our wine and serve them. Or make hashes braised with our red wines.”
Thomas has gained fame for his sumptous morning meals.
“I ask my guests to bring their passports when they come to breakfast. The cuisine changes every day and includes French, Italian or Spanish influences. We might start with a first course of passion fruit with strawberries, yogurt with granola and candied watermelon rind from the garden, then a sunny side up egg with chives and dehydrated Meyer lemon, along with peach, lemon and ginger preserve.” That day’s breakfast menu might also include meat and fish dishes, green bean salad with almonds and slow-roasted tomatoes, sweet pickles, shallots and tangerine zest.
“We do have a lot of guests who don’t want to leave,” he says.