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Life and Cuisine in Laguna Beach - Three Chefs Share Their Coastal City Experiences | ICONIC LIFE

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Life and Cuisine in Laguna Beach – Three Chefs Share Their Coastal City Experiences

Chefs living in Laguna Beach hero
Organic produce, freshly caught fish and Pacific Ocean vistas—life and cuisine in Laguna Beach are a chef’s dream.

Laguna Beach has it all, and the reasons to live within or to visit the Southern California enclave continue to grow. Surf and sand, luxurious hotels, panoramic ocean views and destination-level cuisine are just a few of its many draws. The culinary scene, in particular, is noteworthy. While the casual burger joints and pancake houses of decades past can still be found, the region’s most popular dining spots feature a farm-to-table ethos fully endorsed by the region’s best chefs, for whom life and cuisine in Laguna Beach are a dream come true. 

Jared Cook, Fabian Sanchez and Omar Pineda are three of those chefs. We were fortunate to catch up with them to learn about the foods they love to cook and their thoughts on living in Laguna Beach.

Jared Cook, life and cuisine chef in Laguna Beach

Jared Cook, Executive Chef, Sapphire, Cellar. Craft. Cook.

Born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, Chef Jared Cook graduated from Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Ore., and then relocated to Southern California. Cook has since worked in restaurants such as Laguna’s French 75, Costa Mesa’s Chat Noir and was promoted to executive chef at The Crow Bar and Kitchen. He now oversees the kitchens and creates cuisines at multiple RJB Restaurant Group restaurants in Southern California  including Laguna’s Sapphire, Cellar. Craft. Cook., where he partners with Russ Bendel. 

Cook is recognized as one of Orange County’s top culinarians, and  is known for his unique, out-of-the-ordinary farm-to-table cooking style. He loves the garden and uses organic heirloom vegetables, fruits and herbs harvested from Vine Restaurant & Bar in San Clemente, where he has created his own prolific, onsite garden. Cook’s work and innovation has helped elevate life and cuisine in Laguna Beach.

Sapphire

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IL: How long have you been based in Laguna?

JC: Since early 2020, when Russ and I took over Sapphire.

IL: How and where did you get your start as a chef?

JC: I was attracted to the industry because of my passion for food and horticulture. I knew I would be a chef from the young age of 14. I started cooking with my mom as soon as I could reach the stove. Julia Child and Great Chefs of the World were my favorite TV shows as a teen.

IL: What do you enjoy most about your work at Sapphire?

JC: I really love how Sapphire has become a staple of the local community. Seeing regulars every day is great. And seeing the ocean from the kitchen is pretty cool, too. 

IL: What are some of your favorite items to create in the kitchen?

JC: Nightly specials. Specials are a huge focus for us because they allow us to keep things fresh and exciting and use whatever is at its peak in the season. I enjoy cooking local seafood and vegetables. And handmade pasta whenever I can.

IL: What are your favorite ingredients and/or signature menu items?

JC: Crispy Meyer Lemon & Honey Duck Wings, Duroc Pork Schnitzel with Maitake Mushrooms, Prime Short Rib Bolognese, and Duck Meatballs. 

IL: Do you have local purveyors that you’ve befriended and trust?

JC: When I can’t source from our vine garden, I use Fresh Origins for garnishes, edible flowers and produce. 

IL: What makes Laguna Beach a special place to live and work?

JC: I interned in Laguna Beach while at culinary school and started my career here almost 20 years ago. I also got married here 10 years ago. Of course, the beaches are amazing. There are many great restaurants, and it still has a small-town vibe.

IL: Where can you be found on your days off? 

JC: My wife was born and raised in Laguna Beach. She loves to take our daughters to Victoria Beach, where she went as a kid. I love to golf on my days off, so local courses such as Oak Creek, Monarch Beach, and, of course, The Ranch (Ben Brown’s) are favorites. I also like fishing around and outside of Laguna Beach.

Fabian Sanchez, life and cuisine in Laguna Beach chef

Fabian Sanchez, Chef de Cuisine, Oak Laguna Beach

Chef Fabian Sanchez started cooking at home at an early age. He worked at several restaurants before beginning as a line cook at Oak Laguna Beach when it opened in 2017. His experience, dedication and love for the kitchen led to his promotion to head chef of the popular Laguna Beach restaurant. As head chef, Sanchez leads his team in ensuring it has all the tools necessary to execute delicious, quality dishes and provide the top-notch service for which the restaurant is known. 

chef fabian Sanchez food for living in Laguna Beach

Oak Laguna Beach

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IL: How long have you been living in Laguna Beach?

FS: I have worked in Laguna since the restaurant opened in 2017. It has been a fun ride, for sure. There have been many challenges to overcome, and in successfully doing so, we have contributed to a great community that loves and appreciates Oak and the staff. We find success in catering, participating in local events, and serving residents and tourists while making them feel at home. 

IL: What do you enjoy most about working at Oak?

FS: I love everything about it, from the great kitchen team (we communicate and get along well) to the front of the house being great team players helping provide guests with excellent service. I love that all our ingredients are fresh and that everything we make is made in-house. 

IL: What are your favorite things to create in the kitchen?

FS: Salads and everything that has to do with vegetables and fresh foods. One of our most popular dishes is the ceviche, a personal recipe. I remember coming to work one day and bringing some of my ceviche that I had made at home, and everyone at Oak loved it. The managers and owners then decided it needed to be on the menu and named it “Chef Fabian’s Ceviche.”

IL: What are your favorite ingredients and/or signature dishes?

FS: Some of my favorite items to cook are the Oak Street meatballs with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese (which have been a menu staple since day one), our signature Grilled Shrimp Tacos that bring the ocean to your plate, and our famous Oak burger made with wagyu beef and our special secret sauce. Our burger was recently voted Burger of the Month by the Orange County Register. These ICONIC dishes make people want to come back again and again.

IL: Do you have local purveyors that you’ve befriended and trust? 

FS: I have a great friendship with our protein purveyor; he has been with us ever since the restaurant opened. His name is Marcos, and he’s always bringing the best quality meats in the market for us to serve to our guests.

IL: What makes Laguna Beach a special place to live and work? 

FS: It’s the people because they’re the ones who make everyone feel welcome in this beautiful city. The beaches are another reason it is so special. Nothing is better than enjoying a delicious dish at Oak with a breathtaking view and cool ocean breezes.

IL: Where might you be found on your days off? 

FS: With my family, at the beach, or enjoying Sunday Brunch & Beats at Oak.

Omar Pineda, life and cuisine chef in Laguna Beach

Omar Pineda, Executive Chef, Starfish California

Chef Omar Pineda’s culinary career in Southern California has contributed to life and cuisine in Laguna Beach for more than 30 years. He currently oversees the culinary teams at Starfish California’s Laguna Beach and Newport Beach locations, as well as the company’s quickly growing Coastal Catering division serving Orange and Los Angeles counties. Before joining the Starfish team in January 2023, Pineda was the regional executive chef for PF Chang’s, responsible for more than 30 locations.

Omar Pineda for living in laguna beach

Starfish

IL: What do you love most about your work at Starfish?

OP: I love the culture, atmosphere, team collaboration, and the infinite possibilities of brand growth through our unique guest relationships.

IL: What makes Laguna Beach a special place to live and work?

OP: Laguna is surrounded by beauty, amazing beaches and stunning views. The longstanding relationship with our community, including all our locals and annual visitors, creates a unique dynamic. Now overseeing the two restaurants, I happily commute between locations, enjoying the scenery along the Pacific Coast Highway.  

IL: What are your favorite things to create in the kitchen? 

OP: Making sushi and creating traditional Asian dishes. Starfish Coastal Catering has allowed me to get creative and collaborate with the events department, customizing and designing new offerings for our guests.

IL: What are your favorite ingredients and/or signature menu items? 

OP: Wok Fired Mussels in our scratch Thai Basil Green Curry, Thai Spicy Beef with Basil, and Fresh Cut Chilean Sea Bass with our traditional Chinese Black Bean sauce. 

IL: Do you have local purveyors that you’ve befriended and trust?

OP: Regal Crest Farms, International Marine Products, Tai Wah Trading Company, and Markon Produce are great partners.

IL: Where might you be found on your days off? 

OP: I like to relax at home, and one of my greatest joys is seeing my son play baseball. I like playing many sports, especially football and baseball, and of course, I love cooking at home and feeding the family. I enjoy the beach and visiting local restaurants.

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