Playing football is not the most common route to becoming a chef, but it's how Travis Watson found his way into the culinary world. At the age of 14, he moved from his native Watts, California, to Arizona, where he played football for a coach who happened to be an executive chef.
His coach hired him to wash dishes at his restaurant, and within a few days Travis told his mom he wanted to be a chef. He worked two jobs through high school to be able to attend Scottsdale Culinary Institute - displaying the hard work, drive and dedication that his friends and coworkers know so well.
Following his culinary studies, he did an externship under Michelin-starred Chef Jacques Paccard in Paris. When he returned home, he attended - and played football for - the University of Arizona.
Since then, his culinary career included a position at the AAA Five-Diamond Ritz Carlton at Dove Mountain, and joining Fox Restaurant Concepts as Corporate Pastry Chef, where he was responsible for opening 27 restaurants across the country within eight years.
Prior to joining Rancho Bernardo Inn, Chef Travis was Executive Chef at Avalon in Scottsdale, the Executive Sous Chef at Phoenix's AAA Four-Diamond Royal Palms Resort and Spa, Chef de Cuisine at the AAA Five-Diamond Ojai Valley Inn and Spa, and Executive Chef at The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado.
During his time at the Rancho Bernardo Inn, he has fallen in love with the abundance of local product, the warm weather and the warmer people. Chef Travis is excited to be part of a team that focuses on seasonal, sustainable, nutritious and delicious food.
Chef de Cuisine at AVANT
Growing up in a family where food came from a garden versus a grocery store quickly opened a culinary playground for Chef de Cuisine of AVANT, Aaron Thomas. Influenced by his grandmother and mother, both amazing cooks, Aaron began cooking at age eight and crafting desserts by age 10. His passion soon led him to study culinary arts in the country of Wales, UK.
Time spent learning under Michelin star Chefs Max Renzland and Andrew Hanson in the south of France led him to a culinary leadership role at The Grand Hotel, in Swansea, Wales. During his tenure, Chef Aaron was mentored by Michelin Star Chef, Jacque Abdou, and Chef Aaron worked his way up to Executive Chef at The Grand Hotel, at just 21 years of age.
Chef Jacque Abdou left an everlasting impression on Chef Aaron, teaching him to expect only the highest standards for his menu and staff. In 2010, Aaron transitioned to the Riverside Inn & Grille as Head Chef. During his tenure, The Riverside Inn was voted best gastropub in Wales and Aaron was awarded two AA Rosettes recognizing excellent standards of service, the demonstration of technical service skills and clear commitment to staff training and development. At the time, he was the youngest Chef in Wales to achieve this accolade.
In 2014, Aaron moved stateside to Newport Beach, Calif. to launch Cruisers Pizza Bar & Grill as Executive Chef. During his tenure there, he received local recognition for best restaurant in Orange County.
Having been mentored by renowned Chefs, Chef Aaron Thomas is passionate about making everything from scratch, using the freshest ingredients with state-of-the-art cooking techniques and stresses teamwork in the kitchen to elevate the performance of the entire staff.
Chef Aaron describes his culinary style as modern and traditional. Combining his knowledge of food with a modern twist in flavors and presentation, Chef Aaron’s been able to construct a refreshing update to the menu at AVANT. Taking advantage of southern California’s bounty of fresh produce and meats, he’s able to source the finest ingredients available – a highlight among all of the new menu items.
Margaret Nolan Carvallo
Having come from a long line of sweet tooths, Margaret says in her large family, life thrived and revolved around the dining table. Her love for sweets was born during childhood, when tea parties and baking with Grandma were the norm. Today, after having trained at The California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, and worked at The Lodge at Torrey Pines, The Ivy Hotel and Currant American Brasserie, this talented chef creates each dessert as though she were embarking on a fun new adventure.
Sommelier & Cellar Master
Joe Baumgardner, our Sommelier & Cellar Master at JC Resorts, has been bringing new wines and exciting pairings to the table at AVANT since October 2015. Joe’s interest in wine was sparked by his father who collected wines in the 1960s and 70s (and lucky for Joe, he was able to learn about these wines by dipping into the family cellar when his father wasn’t looking). Working in restaurants since the age of 15, it became apparent that Joe’s passion was strong enough that he should pursue a career in wine. He achieved the Sommelier Diploma from the International Sommelier Guild in 2008.