Vote for Your Favorite Chef in Laguna Beach, Presented By Wells Fargo

Written By: Alana Aronson Chef in Laguna Beach

From winners of culinary awards to judges on Food Network hits to experience-taught kitchen masters, Laguna Beach has a plethora of passionate and talented chefs. Some serve up scrumptious seafood, others stick to succulent steaks, and others bring cultural creativity to the Orange County restaurant scene. As talented as each of our Wells Fargo sponsored poll members are, it is up to you to decide who your favorite culinary master is.


Executive Chef/Partner Rainer Schwarz: Driftwood Kitchen

Restaurateur and Chef Rainer Schwarz combines a rich cultural past with the finest culinary training to present menus unlike any other found in the region. His style of cooking focuses on simplicity by using only the best possible high quality, seasonal ingredients. One of his passions is to pair each dish on his menu with the best possible wine selection.


Chef Azmin Ghahreman: Sapphire Laguna

Born in Iran and educated in Geneva, Switzerland, Chef Azmin Ghahreman received his formal culinary training in French cuisine at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. The vision of “Every Child Deserves a Healthy Start”™ partners Sapphire at School with healthy lunch options to more than 5, 000 students at participating schools throughout Orange County.


Executive Chef Joshua Severson: Selanne Steak Tavern

Joshua Severson has served as the executive chef for Teemu Selanne’s eponymous steak tavern since it opened in 2013. As a steakhouse pro and devotee, he offers guests traditional cuts of steaks and chops, perfectly prepared and served with his version of classic sauces and seasonal sides. Severson’s American contemporary cuisine won Selanne Steak Tavern recognition as Best New Restaurant and Best Steak venue at the 2014 Golden Foodies Awards, which honors top culinary talent in Orange County, California.


Chef/Restaurateur Ryan Adams: Three Seventy Common Kitchen+Drink

Formerly the executive chef of Sorrento Grille, Adams purchased the venue in 2011 and revamped it to offer a new urban look and his inspired take on farm-to-table fare. He is a longtime supporter of sustainable cuisine and works closely with local farmers and purveyors to create his ever-changing contemporary American menus. In 2014, Adams was cited Chef of the Year by Orange County Register’s food critic Brad Johnson.


Chef Alessandro Pirozzi: Alessa

Chef Alessandro Pirozzi was born and raised in Naples, Italy, is owner of Alessa Laguna Beach, Pirozzi Corona del Mar, Mare Laguna Beach and has a new restaurant Coming Soon: Salerno by Chef Pirozzi! He started cooking at the age of four at home with his grandmother, Nonna Ida. It was there that he learned the many secret family recipes and began his journey to become a Certified Italian Chef.


Chef Craig Strong: Studio, Montage Laguna Beach

Known for his modern French cuisine with California influences, Chef Craig Strong developed a love for cooking at an early age. At age 19 he attended L’Academie de Cuisine near Washington, D.C., where he studied under some of the most respected chefs in the area. Chef Strong now brings his expertise and passion for artful cuisine to the Studio kitchen, where he leads his team with charisma and precision.


Chef de Cuisine Michael Campbell: The Loft, Montage Laguna Beach

With 20 years of experience in the culinary arts, Chef Michael Campbell brings an unrelenting commitment to the integrity and seasonality of every ingredient. Chef Campbell brings an enthusiasm to every aspect of the cuisine and day-to-day operations of The Loft, and actively involves guests in their dining experience.


Chef Craig Connole: La Casa del Camino

Newport Beach native, Chef Craig Connole is hailed for his creative approach to cuisine. Known for his droll sarcasm and forward-thinking approach, Connole shifted the direction of K’ya in January 2009, morphing the Cal-Asian menu to old school French Italian Bistro and deconstructed the traditional three-component meal way of thinking by creating a myriad of small plates. When he’s not cooking, the California surfer-at-heart has been known to hit the waves before he hits the kitchen.


Executive Chef Ron Fougeray: Surf & Sand Resort

Having learned from such respected culinarians, Chef Ron is passionate about making everything from scratch and sourcing the finest possible ingredients. A keen appreciation for food history plays a large role in the style and flavors that he displays at Splashes. “Culinary arts is a revolving wheel. It helps to remember the ideas and techniques of those that came before us, while putting a modern twist on flavors and presentation.” While in the kitchen, Chef Ron stresses teamwork to elevate the performance of the entire staff. Everyone being in sync is critical to achieving the ultimate goal—smiles from guests.


Chef Armando Ortega: Lumberyard

Armando has been the chef at Lumberyard since 2008 and prior to that, the chef at Oysters Restaurant in Corona Del Mar. Armando learned his craft from some of the top chefs in Orange County. His approach to food is to allow the ingredients to shine while also providing a stunning presentation of even the simplest of dishes. Trips to many of the finest restaurants in LA have provided inspiration to create new dishes in the kitchen. A recent trip to the Factory Kitchen motivated Armando to begin making fresh pasta for Lumberyard daily—the results have been spectacular.


Andrew Gruel: Slapfish

Andrew Gruel, a graduate of Johnson & Wales University, is currently the CEO and Founder of Slapfish Restaurant Group, the award-winning food truck turned international brick and mortar.  

Andrew has appeared on multiple television series including his most recent role as a judge on Food Network’s Chopped Junior. In 2016 he was named Top 25 Business Executives for Fast Casual Magazine. In 2009, Gruel’s love of the ocean drove him to direct a non-profit project at The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach called “Seafood for the Future.” In this role, he worked with hundreds of chefs, fisherman and like-minded organizations establishing a national culinary awareness for the sustainable seafood movement. This was the foundation of Slapfish.


Chef Arthur Ortiz: Skyloft

A Toronto native, Chef Arthur Ortiz decided early in his career that the culinary contribution from our southerly United States—glorious smoked ribs, fish, jambalayas and more—was a gift he simply had to explore. He learned all about the art of the “smoke” at Mammoth’s renowned Smokeyard BBQ & Chop Shop, and then began upping his game as Chef at the haute diner of Chicago’s West End, AuCheval. At Skyloft, he’s cooking up Cajun rubbed Ribeyes, Black Cherry Glazed Salmon, and a decadent locals’ Secret Menu.


Chef Marc Cohen: Watermarc Restaurant

A true son of the Chesapeake Bay and recipient of the prestigious National Silver Plate Award, Chef Marc is inspired by the regional cuisine of the Atlantic Coast and brings seafood to the forefront of all his menus. The confluence of flavors from his childhood in Baltimore, Maryland melded with the abundant local pacific fare and Laguna Beach’s world class scenery make his restaurants a favorite among the locals.


Chef Pedro Lopez: Starfish

Chef Pedro Lopez continues to bring his passion and dedication to Laguna Beach through his culinary commitment to Starfish Laguna! Pedro has worked his way through every position in the Starfish Kitchen to head chef. He is loved and respected by his team and their guests. Chef Pedro has as big of a heart, as his knowledge in Asian Cuisine. The chef and family man recently welcomed a new baby girl, continuing to grow the Starfish family even more!



Amar Santana: Broadway By Amar Santana

Amar is the Executive Chef and Partner at the famed Broadway By Amar Santana in Laguna Beach and Vaca in Costa Mesa Born in the Dominican Republic, Santana immigrated to the US at age 13 and began his culinary career at 16. He was mentored by some of the world’s most renowned chefs helping him develop his skills of expressing his passion through food. He has earned many accolades throughout his career, most recently Bravo’s Top Chef Season 13 runner up.

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