Ian Cookson is the owner of Libelula in Fresno. Photo by Brandon Baker Photography
Written by Edward Smith
Ian Cookson, executive chef at The Vineyard Restaurant in Madera, will soon unveil a new restaurant next door to the Crest Theater as a way to bring “forward-thinking” cuisine to Downtown Fresno.
Located at 1152 Broadway Plaza, Libelula – Spanish for dragonfly – is aiming for a mid-to-late December opening.
“The younger crowd is more willing to go out and spend the money on food that’s going to be more exciting,” Cookson said. “They’re willing to take a chance to get something they want.”
Cookson has a background in fresh pasta, and proximity to Central Fish Co. in Chinatown means fresh seafood nearly within walking distance.
Libelula, which he also refers to as Lula’s at the Crest, is going to be open for brunch and lunch.
One of the highlights of the menu will be a Portobello mushroom sandwich featuring hummus instead of mayonnaise. Cookson tops it with lettuce, tomato, onion, capers and roasted red peppers on grilled sourdough bread.
“If you tasted it, you no longer care it’s vegetarian,” said Cookson.
He’s most excited about featuring a dish he prepares for himself but couldn’t get on the menu at The Vineyard. It starts with korma – a vegetable-based curry full of what he describes as warm, fall flavors – served atop a plate of tater tots.
“It’s not the most high-end ingredient, but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t like tater tots,” Cookson said.
He also adds duck eggs, which he likes because of their richer flavor, he said. The dish is finished with hot sauce and crumbled feta cheese.
He said the underlying premise behind Libelula will be food he enjoys.
“I’m trying to give people the experience that I have when I eat,” Cookson said.
Part of that experience is farm-to-table produce, he said. The relationships he’s made from The Vineyard give him access to the freshest produce available.
Cookson said The Crest Theatre will be an ideal neighbor for the eatery. Built in 1949, the historic movie house now plays host to comedy shows, movie screenings and concerts, including a performance by Sacramento rock band Cake on Nov. 2.
Depending on demand, Cookson might consider adding dinner service in addition to brunch and lunch. But in the meantime, he will still be leading dinner service at The Vineyard, he said.
Cookson began cooking 15 years ago and has been at The Vineyard for seven years, beginning at the salad station and working his way up to executive chef. Along the way, he picked up a number of specialties as well as strong opinions about fine cuisine.
“I don’t like the term fusion,” Cookson said. “I just want it to taste good without having to label it.”