Apricot's Season Opener, The Castle Bright, at Ammo in Hollywood

Fresh apricots and apricot chutney (recipe below) | Photo by Christianna Reinhardt

"Apricots are the coolest fruit--they're like my summer apple. They are the base of a lot of things for me," says Roxana Jullapat, pastry chef at Ammo, a Hollywood restaurant quietly serving California cuisine since 1996. "And, they are affordable. They're one of the cheaper fruits at the farmer's market."

Jullapat and partner Daniel Mattern, who joined Ammo as head chef in December of 2009, are at the forefront of New California cuisine. "It means buying farmer's market driven, seasonal foods, and being sensitive to organically grown foods with an appreciation for humane and socially responsible practices," explains Jullapat. "Because of all the cultural influence we have here, it's a freestyle mentality. It's improvisational. But you still have to be disciplined as a chef." And they have plenty of that. Jullapat and Mattern met in culinary school 12 years ago, and have since passed through the kitchens of Campanile, AOC, and Clarklewis in Portland, Oregon.

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Now, they are celebrating the first of apricot season with the Castle Bright, from Rieger Farms in Dinuba. When asked to pick a favorite kind of apricot, Jullapat says, "You have to buy all varieties across the season. If you only buy one kind, you'll shorten your season dramatically. You have to have a really open mind to cook this way."

In the main kitchen, Mattern works with apricots in all stages of preparedness: fully cooked down into chutney, lightly roasted and tossed into a salad, and served raw on antipasto and cured meat plates. In pastry, Jullapat cooks them down into compotes and is currently using them in a sweet apricot bread. Mattern's chutney is a one-pot recipe, simmered down into a thick, savory compote, which he serves on an Indian-inspired chicken dish with basmati rice and California almonds. "It's definitely a savory chutney. Leave out the onion if you want it to be sweeter."

In case you need another reason to run to the market for a flat of fruit; Jullapat grins, "And, apricots pair well with Spumante and Champagne."

Mattern chimes in; "A dry Riesling would be good."

"We could go on."

Apricot Chutney
Makes about 1 quart

1 pound ripe apricots, halved, pits removed
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 medium spring onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
2 ounces golden raisins
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 thumb-sized piece fresh ginger
1 chile arbol
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon coriander
1 bay leaf

Combine apricots, sugar, brown sugar, onion, garlic, raisins, kosher salt and vinegar in a non-reactive pot. Using a piece of cheesecloth, make a spice sachet with ginger, chile, peppercorns, coriander and bay leaf. Make sure to tie the bundle of cheesecloth tightly with a string of butcher's twine. Add spice sachet to the pot. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the apricots have soften and start to break down, about 30 minutes. Allow to cool completely. Enjoy!

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