The world of restaurants is ever-evolving, and no one is immune to the brute force of inevitable change that comes with the industry. Across Orange County’s kitchens, old faces are ushering out as new Head Chefs step up to the plate, bringing with them modern technique, innovative flavors, and an immersion of fresh passion to their newly-acquired helms. 2017’s fresh batch of OC chefs is one to keep your eye on.
Alex Moreno of Habana
Chef Alex Moreno’s passion for Latin fare can be traced back to his learning days behind the line in LA. Names like Spago and Bastide fleck his professional timeline, in addition to experience with recipe and menu developments. His talents have even been displayed in the limelight, seen by top chefs and celebrities -- we’re talking winning Chopped and cooking for the likes of Van Halen and Destiny’s Child as a Tour Chef. Now he’s taken on the role of Executive Chef at Cuban dining locale Habana. Once the doors of Habana Irvine open (located at the Spectrum, expected to open in 2017) look out for Moreno’s signature flare and new menu additions, including Afternoon Tea in the Habana Cafe.
Kristy Gunn of Shuck Oyster Bar
SOCO’s Shuck Oyster Bar is not Chef Kristy Gunn’s first rodeo, and while it’s the young chef’s first taste as Head Chef, it’s not without the hard work and paid dues emblematic of a chef’s life. Going from prep to line cook, to working under innovative Chef Jason Quinn, this woman chef left no stone unturned, finally leading her to the ranks of Head Chef at Shuck. With her latest career move coinciding with the oyster bar’s full kitchen remodel, Gunn found an opportunity for a menu expansion. Think comfort food classics like Beer Battered ‘Shrooms, Tomato Bisque in a lobster stock, and Shuck’s first ever dessert, Bread Pudding Bites. Make your way to The OC Mix at SOCO and see for yourself what one of the youngest chefs in Orange County has prepared.
Anne Marie Damaso of Sweet COMBforts
Executive Chef & Co-Owner
In the restaurant game, Anne Marie Damaso wears two hats: 1. Entrepreneuse and 2. Belgian Liege Waffle Buff, two key components to waffle house brainchild, Sweet COMBforts. Since her days spent in the kitchen as a young girl with pastry-filled dreams, the Central California native looked for new ways to push the boundaries when it came to plating, and soon found joy in Belgian Liege waffle creations, a European street food that fittingly is traditionally eaten with your hands. You can find Sweet COMBforts opening up at TRADE in Irvine, where Damaso and her team look forward to bringing a new level of sweet indulgence.
Fernando Valladares of Portside
Chef Fernando Valladares has been passionate about food since he was just a kid playing in his mother’s kitchens in LA and El Salvador. After an educational stint at Le Cordon Bleu, Valladares took to an internship at South Coast Plaza’s Charlie Palmer, then onto other finer dining experiences such as the St. Regis in Dana Point and The Montage in Beverly Hills among the ranks for Scarpetta by Scott Conant. While such hoity-toity restaurants make up his culinary journey, Valladares credits humility as his greatest virtue in the kitchen. With his newest project Portside opening in TRADE, Irvine’s first food hall, Valladares aims to serve the community a healthy and chef-driven seafood menu.
Rashad Moumneh of Falasophy
Executive Chef & Owner
Rashad Moumneh has one mission for Falasophy, his Lebanese eatery: to meet at the crossroads of street food and healthy. Moumneh took to family recipes to offer exciting and all-natural falafel, hummus, and Lebanese street food to Orange County in an otherwise lackluster falafel market through the first Falasophy food truck. He takes pride in being one of the few food trucks to offer a full-on vegetarian (and sometimes vegan) menu, so when DTSA’s 4th Street Market had an opening, he found a brick-and-mortar for his food concept, with doors finally opening just January of this year. Within the small business incubator, Moumneh is bringing an expanded menu with new vegetarian items for food hall goers to enjoy.
Jay Lacuesta of Twenty Eight
Jay Lacuesta is still newer to his role as Executive Chef of Twenty Eight (formerly ran by Top Chef Shirley Chung) but is no stranger to being behind the line. An alum to both Le Cordon Bleu and Jose Andres’ Think Food Group, Lacuesta learned that food is meant to be an experience. Under the mentorship of Chef Chung, Lacuesta developed his appreciation of playing with various flavor profiles and unique ingredients, which can now be found in his transformative menu at Twenty Eight. The shift from Fine Dining Chinese cuisine to New American Roasthouse is no easy feat, but Lacuesta’s biggest strides so far? Bringing a meat-centric menu to Twenty Eight’s table, with items like dry aged Kurobuta pork shoulder and a 40 oz. bone-in ribeye.
Ross Pangilinan of Mix Mix Kitchen Bar
Executive Chef & Owner
Chef Ross Pangilinan is growing into an industry-household name, with his latest entrepreneurial endeavor at DTSA’s Mix Mix Kitchen. Even with a resume that boasts a stint in France’s double Michelin-starred Les Trois Marche, along with over ten years with Patina Group from sous to Executive Chef, opening fusion concept Mix Mix in DTSA undoubtedly highlights Pangilinan’s coup de maitre. Mix Mix really kicks it up a notch with playful menu items like Pork Rind Nachos, Seared Foie Gras Bunuelo with al pastor spices and charred-to-perfection pineapple. Reintroducing humble foods infused with global fine dining influence, Chef Ross is changing OC’s food scene in ways that deserve some serious kudos.
Ryan Sumner of Lighthouse Bayview Cafe
In an established culinary environment like Southern California, enter new kid on the block, Ryan Sumner, the fresh-faced Executive Chef of Lighthouse Bayview. A California native, the young chef has managed to put some real experience under his chef’s hat, from his classical training at Le Cordon Bleu to moving on to Charlie Palmer to work under Chef Seakyeong Kim. Sumner was offered the coveted position of Exec Chef at the waterfront concept, Lighthouse Bayview, with the promise of creative liberty to make a menu that speaks most to the young chef, all at the ripe age of 26. With the freedom to put full passion into his very first menu, Chef Sumner is whipping up New American continental favorites with a modern twist, like Croissant French Toast for brunch and a red wine braised short rib dish flaunted on the dinner menu.