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This Australian chef gives a whole new meaning to Surf and Turf

Written By: Erik Hale
Photography Provided By: Sea Level Restaurant Sea Level Restaurant

I have always felt that fresh fish, sushi and flip-flops should only be enjoyed within walking distance of the ocean. It’s a rule that has served me well, and the times I have deviated from this philosophy (like when I was coerced into all-you-can-eat sushi by my mother in a small landlocked town in Oregon) have produced devastating effects.

Pacific-adjacent Sea Level Restaurant in Redondo Beach, which fits within this parameter, has recently landed an Australian Chef that should have every avid gastronome in the South Bay making a reservation at this seaside eatery.

Chef Craig Hopson is an avid surfer (sneaking out before his shifts for pre-dawn sessions) and also an ocean-lover (donating his time to the Surfrider Foundation, which protects our beaches, oceans and harbors). He has trained in Europe at some of the world’s best restaurants before making his way to the States, where he was the Executive Chef at restaurants such as Le Cirque, Beautique, Picholine and, most recently, Farmhouse in Beverly Center.

I recently talked with Chef Hopson at his new restaurant to talk about his love for the ocean and his Australian influences:

Q: Having visited Australia twice last year, it felt like there was definitely an emphasis on healthy eating. Which Australian restaurants have had an impact on your cuisine?

Craig Hopson: Seems like you’ve spent more time there than me! One of the foundations in Australia is that there are very few imported ingredients. This means that the cuisine is founded on fresh local seafood, grass-fed beef and super local produce. It’s also similar to Southern California, in that everyone is health-conscious. Some restaurants in Sydney that paved the way for this style of eating [include] Icebergs, Sean’s Panorama, Rockpool and the cafes that define the cafe culture—like Bill’s.

Q: We love the Surfrider Foundation and have not only covered what they do but also donate proceeds from many of our events to their cause. How does your style of cooking align with their mission?

CH: I’m always looking for a more sustainable fish to cook with to protect the resources. And, by creating dishes with sustainable seafood, I want to be a part of the conversation and help raise awareness. Also as a surfer who enjoys the ocean and beaches daily, I feel that I have to give back by doing my part—whether it’s by picking up plastic trash on the beach or by telling my friends about Surfrider.  

Q: How can you be an avid surfer and a chef?  

CH: Being a chef requires long hours in the kitchen.  

Q: Are you able to sneak out for a session? 

CH: I try to as much as I can. I try to wake up early and go before lunch service whenever possible and on my days off. It is a great way to reset. I admit my legs are tired from standing all week so after an hour-and-a-half in the water, my legs are jelly. On my days off, I try to go for a day trip with my dogs. Malibu, San Clemente, Huntington Beach—I really try to surf as much as possible. It really helps me think more clearly and be creative in the kitchen. And, anytime I’m deciding on where to go on vacation, I ask myself, “Are there waves, and do they have great food?” I love going down to Baja, just south of Rosarito, for awesome, quiet beaches with good waves and great tacos. I’m hoping to hit San Sebastian soon.  

Q: What one dish you are serving most defines your love of the ocean and techniques you have learned and why?

CH: The halibut poached in olive oil with lemon verbena, served with green tomato caponata and red tomato vinaigrette. I love the texture of the fish. It is my version of summer, too. Halibut has a short season. So do the best summer tomatoes. Caponata is a nod to my training and love of Mediterranean food. Making it with unripe green tomatoes is my style, putting a twist on the familiar.

Sea Level Restaurant and Lounge
655 N Harbor Dr
Redondo Beach, CA 90277
310.921.8950