Chef Andrew Gruel


Slapfish's mastermind Chef Andrew Gruel is most known for his food truck turned national brick and mortar sustainable seafood concept. The New Jersey native's culinary affinity dates back to childhood days of playing sick to ditch school and catch up on the cooking shows on public-access television. From there, Gruel pursued a degree in the Culinary Arts program at Johnson & Wales University, where he scooped up a summa cum laude graduate standing, and took to local lobster restaurants to kick off his experience on the kitchen forefront.

The seafood tycoon's resume spans with a smattering of varying eateries, from midnight shifts spent at Denny's all the way to cooking at fine dining restaurants like The Ritz Carlton, Boston. It wasn't until 2009 that Gruel was pulled from his East Coast roots to take on the role as Director for Seafood of the Future, the Aquarium of the Pacific's nonprofit program in Long Beach, California, where chefs, restaurants, and consumers alike are educated on the importance of sustainable seafood; this being the precursor to the first Slapfish food truck in 2011, which has now grown to ten national brick and mortars and counting to provide eco-conscious boat-to-plate dining to the masses. The Slapfish franchise has since expanded from popups in the nation's big cities like Chicago and New York to bigger endeavors like the 75 locations to come to the Middle East over the next ten years, starting with the Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai that opened its doors in 2014. And it looks like Gruel isn't slowing down any time soon.

Chef Andrew has taken on his two newest concepts, soon to open at TRADE, with a whole team he credits with the possibility to make it all happen as he continues to spearhead the Slapfish Restaurant Group. From ownership team Brent Miller, Jaime Benson, Kayla Runkle, Laurel Gruel, Jesse Runkle, and John Wolanin. The group represents Two Birds, what is described as "a very simple chicken concept that will no doubt be more than simple," and Butterleaf, the long overdue plant-based vegetable diner Irvine has been craving. Gruel and the rest of the team look forward to shaking up the South County culinary scene with conscious and inspired menus at the TRADE food hall.

"We want TRADE to be a one-stop spot for the best food porn in Orange County --
in essence, a retail version of all the food porn on Instagram in real life."