by Lauren Monahan Jan/Feb 2009 Issue
Chef Noe is one of those, rare, extremely talented Chef’s that is both an artist and a sales person.His food creations are always a work of art and he is thrilled to come out and speak with any customer at any time. Capistrano’s and Embassy Suites are very fortunate to have such an experienced professional.Phil Campanelli G.M., Embassy Suites Hotel
The greatest teachers never stop learning. They strive for new knowledge, taking any piece of information they can and incorporating it into their lives in the best way possible. For some, knowledge is just as essential for survival as food, and fittingly enough, Executive Chef Noe Lorenzana is endlessly hungry for both. I’m interviewing Chef today at Capistrano’s, the restaurant he heads at the Embassy Suites O.C., to find out more about this enchanting chef’s story.
As a 40-something year veteran of California’s hotel restaurant industry, you get the idea that Chef Lorenzana is meant to be in the hotel restaurant biz. He was born in Torrance, but his family went back to Mexico when he was very young, moving around with the family business – his father and uncle were President and Vice President of Mexico’s chain of Holiday Inn hotels. “I learned much of my business sense – and my cooking – from my father,” Noe says.
At age 17, Lorenzana came to California and began his first chef apprenticeship at the famed Hotel del Coronado – how fitting for Noe to begin his culinary career in a hotel kitchen. After success at the del Coronado, Lorenzana traveled to New York to attend the Culinary Institute of America, where he studied culinary arts and restaurant management for 3 years. Upon returning to California, Chef Noe earned a Sous Chef position at Anaheim’s Grand Hotel but did not remain there long – after only three short months, he was whisked away to be the Executive Sous Chef on the world famous Queen Mary in Long Beach. As their youngest Executive Sous Chef in history, Chef Lorenzana oversaw 240 culinarians and $21 million in food and beverage sales per year – an extraordinary accomplishment.
In 1980, after eight years with the Queen Mary, Chef Noe teamed up with the Ryder Corporation and moved over to the Anaheim Convention Center, where he was promoted to Executive Chef and was again responsible for cooking for a mass amount of people on a daily basis. As a specialist in opening restaurants, Chef moved around between a few large local hotels, but most notably, he returned to the Queen Mary in 1991 – this time as Executive Chef. This time around lasted a bit shorter than the previous time, but in the 4 years of his Executive Chefdom Lorenzana established the QM’s wildly successful Sunday Brunch.
The next ten years saw Chef doing what he was great at – opening the restaurants in different large chain hotels, traveling and learning and developing new recipes – but in 2004 he ran into Capistrano’s restaurant in the Embassy Suites Orange County, and has been there in the kitchen ever since.
One of the things that struck me most during our interview was when Chef told me about how he deals with coming into a new restaurant. “I never bring people in with me,” he says, in a serious tone. “I work with the existing staff, to find a common ground. I teach the guys to do everything from scratch, and then we go from there.” He talks about giving everyone a chance, from the dishwasher to the fry cook, and adds, “When I leave a place, I do what I can to have the Sous Chef promoted to my Executive Chef position. That’s usually what ends up happening.”
As an avid learner, Chef Noe not only takes classes at the nearby community colleges (Accounting? Yikes!) but at his favorite restaurants. If your place serves a dish that Noe Loves, expect him to ask you when it’s convenient for him to come by and learn how to make it: “I just ask them, when do I need to be there to start. 7am? You got it. I’ll see you there.” This is, of course, not because he wants to serve the same dish in his restaurant, but because he wants to take inspiration from it. When asked if he still cooks on the line, Chef Lorenzana almost stops and stares at me. “Every day,” he says, and adds, matter-of-factly, “If I don’t cook, I lose practice!”
Besides cooking each day, Noe always takes an afternoon walk. Health is something that is very important to him, and is something that he incorporates into his cooking. For example, Chef has chosen a chicken chile relleno – baked, not fried – for Capistrano’s lunch special today. “You can do old fashioned food, with new ways to cook it!” he says, emphasizing subtle changes like smaller portions and plating with elevation instead of spreading out all of the dish’s elements, side by side.
When I ask if he brings his healthy style of cooking home, he cracks a smile and says, “My guilty time is at home. My wife, she is there waiting for me with this food…” Chef Lorenzana has raised four sons and one daughter with his wife of 40 years, Maria Gloria. “I call her Gloria,” he says, with a twinkle in his eye. The two met as teenagers in Mexico, and have been together ever since. At present, they live in a beautiful home in Riverside, with plenty of room for parties. “We try at least once a year to have everyone over here for a party – the chefs, the dishwashers, my friends – everyone. We barbeque and the kids play in the pool.”
As our interview winds down, Chef Lorenzana sits back into his chair and takes in the beautiful atrium that is the centerpiece of the hotel. “It’s fun…” he says, pausing, looking my direction. “Life is fun.” And you know what, I believe him.
Executive Chef Noe Lorenzana
SIGNATURE OR FAVORITE DISH TO MAKE:
Veal, Italian and pastas
THREE WORDS TO BEST DESCRIBE YOUR CULINARY STYLE:
Modern, Art and Creation
IF NOT A CHEF, WHAT WOULD YOU BE?
FAVORITE KITCHEN GADGET:
FAVORITE FOOD TELEVISION SHOW:
Iron Chef America
FAVORITE CONDIMENT/ FOOD SPICE:
Grey mustard, jerk
FAVORITE OC RESTAURANT:
MY CULINARY HERO:
My mentor Paul Hirsbrunner
Embassy Suites Hotel
1325 E Dyer Rd
Santa Ana, CA92705
CHICKEN ROMA SUPREME
Sundried Tomato Sauce
4 tShallots – chopped
3 tOlive oil
1/2 lbSundried tomatoes – soaked
1 CWhite wine
1 C Sundried tomato water – left over
2 CHeavy cream
1 ozCorn starch
Salt and pepper to taste
Saute the shallots in olive oil until brown.
Add sundried tomatoes, garlic, white wine and sundried tomato water.
Add heavy cream to boiled and add corn starch.
Reduce to half, turn to low heat and add butter piece by piece.
Do not break the sauce.
Strain and adjust the taste with salt and pepper.
1/2 ozMushrooms – sliced
1 7 ozChicken breast
1/2 CBread crumbs
1 ozShredded parmesan
1 tOlive oil blend
1/2Basil leaves – julienne
3 oz Sundried tomato sauce
Saute the shallots and mushrooms and set aside.
Pound the chicken breast and stuff with spinach, mushrooms, and shallots.
Dip in buttermilk and coat with bread crumbs and parmesan cheese.
Fry to crispy (15 seconds) and finish in the oven.
Slice the chicken breast into five (5) pieces and fan around the plate.