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Santa Ana’s Most Creative Chefs

Written By: Alana Aronson Chefs in Santa Ana

Santa Ana is one of the best Orange County locales for amazing cuisine. Culturally influenced, creative, inspired, and delicious dishes—the creators of such cuisine are dedicated to their craft. We gathered several of Santa Ana’s best chefs for a Wells Fargo Sponsored poll asking, “Who is Your Favorite Chef in Santa Ana?” Well, you voted, and here are your top 5.

 

Chef Ryan Garlitos: Irenia Restaurant

Q: Where do you draw inspiration?

Ryan Garlitos: Irenia is named for my Grandmother, who did a lot of the Filipino cooking in my family growing up. Although we don’t use her recipes at our restaurant we do use seasonal ingredients to evoke the spirit of my family’s home cooking, but obviously using different techniques and local product. It’s inspired by her but also by other Filipino dishes I didn’t grow up eating, stuff I’ve read in books, and flavors or ingredients I think would be interesting.

Q: What gets you excited before each service at the restaurant?

RG: The idea that maybe somebody who has never been here before, or maybe doesn’t have a point of reference for Filipino food might come and discover a dish they really love. Or the idea that a guest who is familiar with Filipino cuisine might find a new way to enjoy a dish they’ve eaten their whole lives. It’s exciting to think we might have a hand in changing the way people see Filipino food.

Q: What does being voted one of the top 5 chefs in Santa Ana mean to you?

RG: I am flattered that the local community has embraced our restaurant.  

Q: Where can we find you when you aren’t at work?

RG: As the owner and operator of Irenia, I don’t get very much time away from the restaurant. And often the time away is spent doing things for the restaurant. Shopping at local farmers markets, for example. Depending on the week and what we need I will usually hit up either the Santa Monica Farmers Market on Wednesdays, the Irvine Farmers Market on Saturday, or Mar Vista Farmers Market on Sundays.

Q: What is your favorite dish at the restaurant?

RG: Our menu is seasonal so it’s always changing but on our current menu I would say, it’s a tie between the Kaldereta (braised beef neck bones in tomato sauce with blistered shishito peppers and fingerling potatoes) and the Dinuguan (slow roasted pork shoulder in pork blood sauce with braised onions, charred Anaheim peppers, and watermelon radish). The reason being, these two dishes are the least fussed with. The dishes may look different from their more traditional counterparts, but flavor wise I feel like they are more traditional than some of our other dishes. They are also two of my favorite Filipino dishes, so I wasn’t too concerned with with changing them in essence, but rather presenting them in a more elegant way.

 

Chef Jona Guijarro: BRASA Rotisserie

Q: Where do you draw inspiration?  
Jona Guijarro: I draw inspiration from my background and culture, where I come from, and the experience from learning and working as a Chef. I’ve worked in a multitude of types of restaurants from classic American to Peruvian cuisine. I see ingredients as more than just a simple apple or orange, for example, but as an object that can be transformed into anything I desire. All of this has molded me into the Chef I am today.

Q: What does being voted one of the top 5 chefs in Santa Ana mean to you?
JG: It is a great honor to be voted one of the Top 5 Chefs in Santa Ana! This has been a very exciting time for me, especially as such a young chef. I’m proud to be the Head Chef of our new restaurant BRASA Rotisserie and have loved the freedom I’ve been given to create my own dream menu for BRASA! To be able to take everything I have learned from my education and my own Peruvian background to produce this menu, is a honestly a dream come true!

Q: What gets you excited before each service at the restaurant?

JG: I get excited about a number of things before each service… Looking forward to the unique special that’s on the menu for the night, the thrill of having a special guest or friend come in to try my food, or something as simple as fresh and seasonal ingredients that I’ve been anxious to get my hands on. It’s the best feeling in the world to know that your restaurant is bustling, your staff is happy and smiling, and your food is bursting with quality flavor like no other.

Q: Where can we find you when you aren’t at work?

JG: On my days off you can usually find me with my son Noah! Spending time with my loved ones is what I enjoy most (as well as cooking for them). Family is so important to me and they inspire me. Since I was a little kid, I remember always spending time with Grandma Mamia and helping her make her famous arroz con pollo and budín!

Q: What is your favorite dish at the restaurant?

JG: My favorite dish at BRASA Rotisserie has to be the BRASA Clucker! Not only is it one of the most delicious sandwiches ever, but it really represents everything I know and love all in one dish! From the crusty, fresh baked bread to the secret BRASA sauce; each ingredient is simple at heart, but once they come together it becomes a divine explosion of taste. Of all the tasty meals on our menu, this sandwich represents my culture, my family, and my training from all of the restaurants I have worked at.

 

Co-Founder, Co-Owner and Chef Sam Ruiz: Café Calacas

Q: Where do you draw inspiration?

Sam Ruiz: As cliché as this may sound, my childhood in Mexico City. Mexico City is a lot like New York City, or some Asian countries, meaning street vendors is 60 percent of everybody’s daily food. Growing up in such a culture and food rich city really allowed me to taste texture and flavor combinations that other people would not call normal. These created moments for me in my head, moments that I like to replicate to as many people as possible throughout our dishes. Of course being a Mexican child, my mother is a huge inspiration when it comes to dishes. My father never really cooked, but my mom being from a small town from a different state, (San Luis Potosí) really allowed me the experience of tasting food that isn’t typical Mexican food.  When you combine all that, in my experience of today’s or modern food,  Café Calacas is what you get.

Q: What gets you excited before each service at the restaurant?

SR: What really gets me and our team excited, is the fact that we know we are injecting our culture into a place where people claim is being washed out. Our clientele is not only hispanic. We have many Caucasians, Asian Americans, and even Middle Eastern Americans that come and enjoy food and our coffee drinks. Coffee culture has really changed the spectrum of the type of clientele that we get at our shop. Once we get them through the door, we know they’re going to want to taste something. And then when they have something like Chilaquiles or Café de Olla, we know we’ve done our job for the Mexican culture. This of course has to be executed perfectly every time. Which is why I am so proud of my guys who make all salsas from scratch daily and make sure we are represented perfectly every service.

Q: What does being voted one of the top 5 chefs in Santa Ana mean to you?

SR: first of all, I feel like my team and I won this. They are an extension of me, because when I am not there they make sure everything is the way I made it the first time, if not better. But, it is an extreme honor. I was raised in the city, I lived in the city, I still live in the city which was called ghetto, bad, dirty, etc. To know we are slowly turning our city into something better is great. It is so rewarding to be in the restaurant, and see that the clientele that is walking through the doors is the same people you went to middle school with, the same people you went to elementary school with, the difference is they are now bringing in their kids and their family. These are our future generations, and we can show them that you can come from a city that was looked down upon, and make it better. The culinary scene in Santa Ana is changing so much, and I’m so proud to be able to be part of it, along with great people, like every single Chef that was on your poll. I tip my hat to them not just for their incredible talent in the kitchen, but for also taking the risk and coming to a city that is just up-and-coming and has a history of not necessarily always being the best.

Q: Where can we find you when you aren’t at work?
SR: When I’m not cooking, I’m working on cooking. I like to go out and eat at places who aren’t necessarily popular yet but I know have great food. Inspiration can come from any place, and any culture. I purposely like eating at different cultural spots. One day Japanese, one day Italian, one day Indian, and so forth. I feel like food is a language that most people know how to speak but just don’t know yet. I like taking aspects from other food and injecting them into my food, therefore presenting it as a Mexican dish with flavors you already know. When I’m not cooking at all, I thoroughly enjoy music. I play piano, guitar, and drums. I feel like music allows me to express myself the same way the food does, so those two are my sanctuary.

Q: What is your favorite dish at the restaurant?

SR: My favorite dish of the restaurant is the Chilaquiles. We, along with a couple other spots in Orange County, were making these before they were cool. I feel like after some media gave them attention they became popular again like churros. However the simplicity of them always amazes me. It’s not the most intricate food ever, but it hits you deep in the soul.

Owner and Chef Ross Pangilinan: Mix Mix Kitchen Bar

Q: Where do you draw inspiration?  

Ross Pangilinan: I find inspiration everywhere! From people,TV, magazines, newspapers, social media, markets, grocery stores, and other restaurants. There is something you can learn from everyone and everywhere.

Q: What gets you excited before each service at the restaurant?

RP: Now that I have Mix Mix, the busier we are the more excited I get. I want to have the opportunity to cook, meet and connect with as many people as I can.

Q: What does being voted one of the top 5 chefs in Santa Ana mean to you?

RP: I am honored to be named one of the top 5 chefs, as I am new to the Santa Ana community. Just a few months ago, I was working in Costa Mesa and was honored to be named one of your Top 5 Chefs in that community. I have had a lot of support from my friends and family.

Q: Where can we find you when you aren’t at work?

RP: With my kids Madeleine and Maddex, and wife Tara. We go to Disneyland a lot and spend time with friends and family!

Q: What is your favorite dish at the restaurant?

RP: At the moment it is hard to say, when I created the opening menu at Mix Mix I designed it around all my favorite things to eat. I am really excited about our snack section on the menu. It is filled with fun and tasty items and I add new ones to that section regularly.

 

Executive Chef Brian Black: Tangata Restaurant

Q: Where do you draw inspiration?

Brian Black: I have always drawn my inspiration from the local seasons. Utilizing the ability to teach and train new culinarians that embrace the food culture and can enhance the daily quality of cuisine through knowledge of its origin, scientific properties, and sustainability.

Q: What gets you excited before each service at the restaurant?

BB: I get excited to see everyone come together as a unit.  When the team starts to think together as a whole it produces incredible results.  Watching this development is what excites me and helps to propel the next generation of chefs here in Orange County and across the country.  Believing in someone can be very powerful for everyone.

Q: What does being voted one of the top 5 chefs in Santa Ana mean to you?

BB: As I am new to Santa Ana, It is a great honor to be a part of this community.  There are some very talented chefs here and I am happy to be mentioned alongside them.  It means the world to me and my staff to be featured with a great group of restaurants.

Q: Where can we find you when you aren’t at work?

BB: You can find me with my other love in life…my family.  Making breakfast every morning for them gives me the same sense of community that I find in the restaurant.  Every minute is a blessing.

Q: What is your favorite dish at the restaurant?

BB: Favorite is a broad term.  For my personal tastes, I enjoy many dishes on the menu.  My favorite dish would depend on what looks good in the moment.  I love the Short Rib Taquitos and the Coffee-Crusted Steak.  My favorite is probably the Scottish Salmon with heirloom beans, green tomato relish, and sherry vinaigrette.  To me it says light, fresh, and sustainable.  What I would devour when I’m not craving a burger.

These Santa Ana Chefs Are Bringing Creativity to Their City