By Crystal Harrell
Walking inside Chef George’s Hungarian Restaurant and Picasso Lounge in Bermuda Dunes is like being transported to an old world-style European restaurant pristinely tucked away in the more modern ambience of the Coachella Valley restaurant scene. Textured wallpaper and a warm color palette attract the eye along the interior of the first dining room, adorned with pictures and paintings that each tell a story of their own.
The sleekness of the marble bar counter and music stage to host live entertainment wait in the next room, still evoking the same otherworldly flair present in the main dining room. Picassos and other artistic treasures hang on the wall, overlooking the dinner crowd as they indulge in Hungarian delicacies and other dishes from around the world. This is the legacy of fine dining that Chef George Ristich and his wife Lana have created in the desert.
With an impressive resume and years of expertise, Chef George has cooked for presidents and celebrities throughout the course of his career as a culinary master artist. He has worked at famous fine dining restaurants such as Bel-Air Country Club, Scandia, Escoffier Rooms, and the Del Rey Yacht Club.
He also served as the Executive Chef that helped launch the Velvet Turtle Restaurant chain into the world-class status it possesses today and was the previous owner of George’s Camelot, one of Newport Beach’s best restaurants, for twenty years.
“I very much like to be involved in the kitchen when I am working at a restaurant. Instead of just overseeing everyone, I want to be participating in the process and making something that I know that other people will really like,” said Chef George.
Chef George gets inspiration to create each menu item by looking at signature dishes from around the world, and putting his own twist on them. This involves actually traveling to a country to sample the best of the best through a friend’s recommendation or by its global reputation.
The chef has employed this technique with the inclusion of menu items such as authentic bouillabaisse from France, paella from Spain, chicken marsala from Italy, Hungarian goulash, and an authentic Greek salad.
Chef George’s Picasso has entertained a variety of celebrities over the years in its Bermuda Dunes location, notably President Gerald Ford who favored the stuffed cabbage, and country singer Toby Keith during the Stagecoach Festival season.
“We didn’t even know it was Toby Keith until he suddenly started just performing at the restaurant for a couple of hours. Guests were telling me, ‘Lana, you know who that is, right? How much are you paying him?’ He said he only wanted to be paid in Heinekens, and that he had visited because he heard our food was excellent,” revealed Lana.
When it comes to picking a favorite dish off the menu, George cannot come to decide over any of his artful creations. Lana, however, names the Hungarian Stuffed Cabbage topped with sour cream and served with vegetables, as well as the Chicken Livers prepared with sautéed onions in a Danish or Italian fashion as some of her go-to dishes.
While being co-owners of Chef George’s Picasso and building a powerful business dynamic together, George and Lana have also instilled the same technique of communication and understanding when it comes to their decades-long marriage.
“When I first met Lana, I told her, ‘I can’t promise you wealth, but what I can promise you is that you will never have a dull moment with me.’ That’s something I still ask her everyday—if she’s bored yet,” exclaimed George.
“He kept his promise,” added Lana.
Music is very much a part of the restaurant experience as well, as Chef George’s New Picasso Lounge hosts a live DJ Tuesday through Saturday from 9:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. A talented line-up of live musical acts also treat audiences Tuesday through Saturday at 6:30 p.m. to 9 :30 p.m. and from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday.
The entertainment includes Barry Minniefield of The Voice fame performing Motown and R&B current hits and classics, vocalist/impressionist Lizann Warner, and Michael D’Angelo & Jimmy Street with a variety of Doo Top, Latin, and Italian medleys.
“We want to continue to expand our clientele to new, younger generations, so that they, too, can experience the delicious food offered at our restaurant. We plan on being here many more years to come,” said Lana.
This is a very likely possibility, as the establishment has only continued to grow—expanding from just one room to overtaking the neighboring businesses to better suit the large dinner crowds.
Chef George’s Picasso is also available to host events and parties by reservation—being able to comfortably accommodate up to 170 people. To book events, call the restaurant at 760-200-1768 or visit the Chef George’s Picasso website.