Mac’s to bring culinary world to our doorstep

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Mac’s to bring culinary world to our doorstepAs residents of the Indian Wells Valley enter the third month of confinement, local chef Kent McGowan is preparing to bring global cuisine to their doorsteps.

Just three weeks into occupying a space in the Heritage Village Plaza — previous home to popular eateries like Homestead, Grape Leaf and Santa Fe Grill — McGowan has entertained scores of inquiries from locals eagerly awaiting a new restaurant. His concept, “Mac’s,” will have a rotating menu featuring regional dishes from around the world. And it’s opening for curbside pickup and delivery within the next few weeks.

“My tagline is, ‘What’s your culinary destination?’” said McGowan. His new venture combines a lifelong history in the valley, and a love of food that reaches back nearly as far, that he is blending to satisfy local cravings for diverse food options without having to hop on a plane to fetch them.

He is also grounding his ever-changing menu in a 1940s theme. “It’s my favorite era,” he said. Americans were unified by the war effort. The economy was beginning to pick up. Dining out felt special and exciting. Air travel was beginning to make world travel accessible, giving people a thirst for new adventures. Photos and artifacts celebrating this historic era will be reflected throughout the space.

Patrons will also be able to choose from the family dining area, complete with an upscale remodel or a cantina with a full-service bar and the ability to accommodate live music. A cafe will serve coffee, tea and all the associated delicacies. Or diners can enjoy a meal in the open air out on the patio.

“I’m not just looking to feed people. ‘Here’s your food, thanks for coming, see you later,” said McGowan. “We really want to offer people an experience.

“I want to be the kind of place where, before people kick off their shoes when they get home, they say, ‘I wonder who is hanging out at Mac’s tonight.’ This is the place where you know you can come and see your friends.”

Kent’s father, Warren, moved the family here in 1975. He worked on base, in Trona and at the IWV Water District before he retired. Warren and his wife, Donna, still make their home here. Three of his four children have planted roots in the community.

“And this is very much a family endeavor,” said Kent. His sister-in-law, Rachel, will manage the front of house. Casey Groves will manage the kitchen.

Kent will draw on more than two decades in the industry to oversee both.

After graduating from Burroughs High School in 1996, Kent took a job in San Diego. One Friday, he wandered over to the Loews Coronado Bay Resort farmer’s market.

“I’m just a skinny little kid, and here I am watching like four international chefs do demonstrations.” Kent boldly approached a tall toque-wearing gentleman, told him he was thinking about going to culinary school and asked for advice. The man introduced himself as Jimmy and showed Kent around. He told him to come back to the restaurant and ask for him.

The following Sunday Kent did just that, but none of the staff knew a “Jimmy.” Finally, one employee asked, “Do you mean James Boyce?” It turned out Kent had connected with the renowned executive chef at the resort.

“So James comes out to meet me, and I see all the line cooks straighten up as he walks in.” Kent was offered a job, and started the next day.

He worked there for the most part of the next five years before returning to Ridgecrest. From there Kent decided it was time to go to school, and attended Le Cordon Bleu — one of the most prestigious culinary institutions in the country — to earn his certificate.

His next decade or so was spent working virtually every position at restaurants ranging from high end to fast casual.

When Mac’s opens, it will be offering Italian, German and Cajun cuisines to start with. “We will have chicken, beef, salad, burger and other options, but every three months we will focus on three specific cuisines.”

The kitchen will be preparing family-style orders that servers will present for pick-up. The staff is ready to meet all safety guidelines relating to the pandemic. “When the time comes, we will be opening up the dining area — half capacity at first, to allow for spacing.

“After that, we hope to bring in a lot of other elements.” Live music, wine tastings, trivia nights and — possibly even cooking lessons, when it’s safe.

Once the customer-base has been built up, Kent intends to allow customers an opportunity to help select future cuisines.

“We want to be able to have something for everyone.” Casual options for families, maybe more elegant items for those looking for a more exotic experience. Plan to find both rustic and refined items on the menu.

He said that rather than becoming a direct competitor with existing restaurants, he wants to focus on unique specialty items.

For example he’s tapping his McGowan heritage for an Irish-fusion egg roll — featuring corned beef, cabbage and Swiss cheese in an Asian wrapper.

Although restaurants across the state are struggling to compete in light of COVID-19 restrictions (see related story, this edition), Ridgecrest venues have a unique opportunity ahead of them: thousands of visitors are expected to come and stay over the next three to five years as a part of earthquake recovery efforts at China Lake.

“I think our theme will fit well with that clientele, as well as with our residents,” said Kent. “We want to be able to provide a food experience to people who can’t go anywhere.”

Have a craving for a campfire S’more? Mac’s has you covered. “And we want to do some fun things, like having pizza kits for kids wanting to make their own pizza. We pop it in the pizza oven and bring it back for them to eat.”

Kent said he also believes that having roots in the community, and no franchise obligations, is an advantage. “I don’t have to go by what corporate says. It’s what Kent says. And I want to hear what our community wants.”

You can track progress by following “Mac’s” on Facebook or at macsinternationalrestaurant.com.

Pictured: Kent McGowan stands before the future site of Mac’s. — Photo by Rebecca Neipp

Story First Published: 2020-05-22