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Larry Phelps takes over kitchen at Ambrosia Bistro and Wine Bar

UPDATED: Wed., Nov. 10, 2021

When owners Scott and Kara Cook opened Ambrosia Bistro and Wine Bar 15 years ago, their goal was to “bring a feeling of ‘downtown’ to the Spokane Valley,” their website reads.

Today, as Larry Phelps takes on the role of executive chef, the goal is much the same.

“We’re not looking for Michelin stars, but we are looking for something that’s a little nicer than fast casual … we still want to have that kind of an atmosphere, but make it accessible,” Phelps said. “We don’t want it to feel like you can’t go out to dinner if you’re in jeans and a T-shirt.”

Before starting at Ambrosia Bistro and Wine Bar, Phelps worked at Hay J’s Bistro, the Knitting Factory’s District Bar and the Black Diamond, where he took on a creative role behind the gastropub menu.

Phelps has approached his new position with an open mind.

“I’m not the kind of person that comes in and just takes over. … I let them teach me what they’re doing, and I think that gave them a pretty big sense of pride and ownership in what they’ve been doing for so long,” he said. “I have a pretty amazing crew. I’m excited to work with them … just as much as they are with me.”

Originally from Southern California, Phelps always tries to bring ideas from his travels back to the kitchen with him.

“I just love trying things, so I will eat my way through any town I go to,” he said. “I’m always finding inspiration … I encourage my team to do the same.”

Always open to experimentation, Phelps affectionately refers to his kitchen as “the lab.”

“My approach to the menu is going to be classic food with a modern twist,” he said.

Over the weekend, for example, Phelps ran a risotto special based on the classic French coq au vin. And later in November, Phelps’ team is planning to serve a Turkey Wellington, a Thanksgiving twist on the traditional beef dish.

The biggest changes will come in January when Phelps starts implementing a seasonal menu to be updated on a quarterly basis.

“First of the year, we’ll also show a winter menu focused on winter produce and vegetables … along with weekly specials,” he said. “We’ll get to that point very soon, but I’m focusing on the foundation right now … seeing what I can I do to get the menu updated … and that’s what I really enjoy doing.”

Phelps also hopes to put more emphasis on sustainability and sourcing produce as locally as possible. He’s a particular fan of the team at New Heritage Farms.

“They’re just amazing humans,” he said. “I am a fan of local farmers … and I’m always looking for more.”

It’s not quite realistic to source 100% of produce locally, Phelps said, but he tries to get as close as possible.

“We’re taking it step by step, but I think the biggest thing I want people to know is just that we’re here,” he said. “We are making some changes, but we’re not just flipping a light switch.”

We’re not reinventing the wheel here, Phelps said – just putting a new spin on a few old favorites.

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