Executive Chef Cy Yontz
Executive Chef Cy Yontz embodies the human version of the restaurant he commands. The whitewashed walls and equally stark linens of Rio Grill in Carmel sharply contrast with the restaurant’s famous caricature wall and the bold South- western knickknacks poised in random corners. Yontz’s bold tendencies are expressed in the tattoos that peek from under the sleeves of his crisp, white uniform coat in an intriguing kaleidoscope of personal ink, and in a menu marked with ingredients that add a perfect splash of tasty surprise.
Executive Chef Yontz is a self-proclaimed chile expert, a passion he discovered as a chef in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Yontz’s foray into the kitchen, however, started long before he found his niche in Southwestern cuisine. “I started working in restaurants when I was 13, but the turning point came when I was 17 or 18,” he says, referring to his life-changing apprenticeship under celebrity chef Jimmy Schmidt of the Rattlesnake Club and other high-profile restaurants. Executive Chef Yontz further honed his skills with restaurateur Kevin Taylor at Palettes Restaurant in Denver, eventually moving to the celebrated Pranzo Italian Grill and Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe. Yontz places great value on on-the-job training. “You’re there, in the thick of it. You can’t learn that in school,” he says. “If I had to do it again, I would do it the same way.”
Since coming to Rio Grill over three years ago, Executive Chef Yontz has slowly introduced Southwestern kicks to Rio’s menu of traditional California cuisine. “I like to slide something in when the train’s moving,” Yontz says with a mischievous laugh. This explains such twists as balsamic-chile-marinated pork tenderloin with honey-onion-chipotle marmalade, and bacon-wrapped scallop bruschetta with ancho-chile rémoulade. “Food should be a fun thing. It’s about great, bold flavors and everyone having a good time,” Yontz says. When asked what customers can expect in the coming months at Rio Grill, Yontz shares his plans for revitalizing weekday happy hour. “And look for heirlooms,” he says. with just enough tease to hint at something legendary in the making.