Rob Wilson Makes Scallops with Cathy Thomas

Fun designs and high-quality ingredients make this dish a keeper.

On the plate, the scallop dish that Rob Wilson prepared at my house looked like a stunning painting influenced by artists Jackson Pollock and Joan Miro. Colors outlined shapes, leggy textures danced opposite smooth puree, and whimsical black splatters stretched their spiky edges outward.  

The culinary artistry of Wilson, executive chef-owner of Glasspar in Dana Point, isn’t new to me. In 2007, he gave me my first lesson in molecular cuisine. At the time he was the executive chef at The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel. He taught me how to prepare pearl-shaped beads of carrot “caviar,” as well as “meat glue” designed to adhere layers of proteins of different hues. Fascinating and fun. 

His artsy (and delicious) dish teamed deeply browned seared scallops with a fresh pea puree spiked with truffle oil. A beurre noir sauce—described as a beurre blanc sauce augmented with squid ink—joined the tasty party, along with roasted bundles of Shimeji mushrooms and a salad-like pea tendril garnish. The seared-to-perfection scallops welcomed the flavors of the accompaniments, reveling in the earthy complexity of the beurre noir and the subtle sweetness of the pea puree made irresistible with the scent and taste of the truffle oil. A tiny pea tendril salad topped the center, bright and vibrant with a little crunch.  

Wilson used U-15 diver scallops. The U-15 designation indicates that there are 15 sea scallops per pound. Those large, plump beauties were diver specific, signifying that they were hand-harvested by scuba divers.  

Photographs by Curt Norris

At age 15, Wilson began his culinary career as a dishwasher at Dana Point’s iconic Chart House overlooking the harbor; he quickly moved up the ladder to become the head cook. After classical training at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, he eventually helmed the kitchen of some of Orange County’s most prestigious resorts, including the Surf and Sand Resort in Laguna Beach and The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel where he served as executive chef for 13 years. More recently, he was the executive chef at Montage Laguna Beach. 

In December 2019, he opened his own restaurant. He describes Glasspar as a redefined American seafood restaurant, an East Coast-style seafood dining hall brought to the West Coast and given an elevated fresh California artisanal feel.  

Glasspar, 24961 Dana Point Harbor Drive, Dana Point 

Few Know: I rode bulls for the Junior Rodeo Association. I started with steers when I was 10 and moved onto bulls at 14. 

Kitchen Music: Dishwashers go with Latin music, while the front line prefers everything from Metallica to rap to classical. Tunes stop five minutes before service. 

Secret Talent: As of late, I have become very good at fixing all sorts of things around the restaurant: sinks, ice machines, compressors, and a bunch of other stuff. I never used to be able to fix anything. 

Collections: Surf boards: vintage longboards, as well as custom-shaped boards. (I have) boards in the attic, on walls, and in the garage. 

Drink of Choice: I love wine. A nice rosé from Provence, an unoaked chardonnay, or pinot noir are my go-to varietals. 

Home Freezer: Trader Joe’s frozen Alsatian Tarts—late night treat I make for my wife and me. It’s about midnight when we get home. They are delicious and have a nice flakey crust. 

Favorite Knife: My 7.5-inch utility knife. Her name is “Needle.” I cut all the fish during Covid with her. She is old and worn down but still amazing. 

Pan Seared Diver Scallops with Truffle Spring Pea Puree and Shimeji Mushrooms 

Yield: 4 servings 

  • Shimeji Mushrooms: 2 (3.5-ounce) packs Shimeji or Bunashimeji mushrooms, drizzle of canola oil or canola blend, salt, and pepper 
  • U-15 Diver scallops, 3 per person 
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste 
  • 4 tablespoons canola oil, or an oil blend of 75% canola oil and 25% olive oil 
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter 
  • 3 to 4 sprigs fresh thyme 

Beurre Noir Sauce:  

  • 1 cup dry white wine 
  • 1 shallot, minced 
  • 1 lemon, minced zest and juice 
  • 4 ounces heavy whipping cream 
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small chunks 
  • 1 tablespoon squid ink 
  • Salt and pepper to taste 

Truffle Pea Puree: 

  • 1 cup shelled English peas, shelled, ice water 
  • 1 ounce lemon oil 
  • 1 teaspoon truffle oil 
  • Salt to taste 
  • Pea tendril garnish: 1 cup pea tendrils, 1 teaspoon lemon oil, salt to taste 

Cook’s notes:  If preparing more than 6 scallops, sear the scallops in two pans, staggering start times. Squid ink is sold online. 

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Each package of mushrooms will probably have one bunch connected at root end. Make a shallow cut at root of each bundle to remove the very end but keep the bundle together. Cut each into top-to-bottom sixths. Place cut-side down on rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with a little canola oil or canola oil blend (75% canola oil, 25% olive oil) and season to taste with salt and pepper. Roast in preheated oven until browned and tender, about 10 minutes. Set aside
  2. Heat medium sauté pan on high heat (see cook’s notes). Heat oil until very hot, almost smoking. Add single layer of scallops giving some space between scallops. Sear until deeply caramelized on bottom and turn. Reduce heat to low. Add butter and thyme. Tilt pan and baste the scallops with the melted brown butter for 30 to 40 seconds. Remove scallops from skillet and place on pan or plate to rest.
  3. Once scallops are out of the skillet, discard butter and thyme; wipe out skillet and place on high heat. Prepare Beurre Noir Sauce: Add white wine and shallot to pan. Cook to reduce volume by 3/4. Add cream and again, reduce in volume by 3/4. Reduce heat to low and add juice and zest. Stir in butter, one piece at a time, stirring to incorporate each before adding the next. Stir in squid ink, salt, and pepper. Set aside.
  4. Prepare truffle pea puree: Bring a small pan of water to a boil. Set a small bowl of ice water next to stove. Add shelled peas to boiling water; cook just until tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Scoop up peas with a slotted spoon or handled strainer and place in blender. In the scooping process scoop up a couple of ice cubes to add to the blender, and a little of the ice water, about 2 tablespoons. Add lemon oil, truffle oil, and salt. Whirl in blender until smooth. If the mixture is too thick, add a little more ice water and blend. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
  5. In small bowl, toss pea tendrils with lemon oil and salt.
  6. Plating: On rimmed dinner plates, place about 3 tablespoons of pea puree in center of each; spread puree into a 2 1/2- to 3-inch wide round shape using the back of a spoon. On each plate, place three seared scallops atop pea puree. Outside the pea puree add a mushroom bundle at 12, 4, and 8 (visualize a clock). Between the mushroom bundles, place a spoonful of Beurre Noir Sauce. Using the back of a spoon, strike sauce to splatter (this is where the rim on the plate helps to contain the splatter). Top scallops with a small portion of pea tendrils. Serve.

Cathy Thomas is an award-winning food writer and has authored three cookbooks: “50 Best Plants on the Planet,” “Melissa’s Great Book of Produce,” and “Melissa’s Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce.” For more than 30 years, she has written about cooking, chefs, and food trends. She was the first newspaper food journalist to pioneer taping how-to culinary videos for the Web.