In a transient profession where all chefs seem to be imports from elsewhere, we found a chef with a local past. Chef Rob Wilson was raised in Laguna Niguel, attended Dana Hills High School, and currently holds the revered position of Executive Chef of The Montage Laguna Beach.
This is not to say that he has not traveled around the country and paid his dues, making many sacrifices along the way, but he has earned his way back to the beach area he loves with the necessary experience under his white coat and apron. You can take the boy out of California but you can’t take the California:well, you know. Chef Wilson’s main leisure activities include surfing and stand-up paddle boarding, and he enjoys the So Cal weather that permits him to garden (produce, of course) year-round. Chef Wilson started cooking at the Chart House in Dana Point at 15 years old where he got very used to “turning and burning” quickly, as the Chart House is known to be a high-volume locale. Liking the fast pace and feeling like this might be his calling, Chef went right to the top and attended the Culinary Institute of America. He was well on his way, following this writer’s mantra to “get the best education you can and then jump on prestigious coat tails”.
Chef Wilson just recently joined the Montage in August 2010 after an impressive history as Executive Chef with the Ritz-Carlton chain that spans two decades. Although he speaks fondly of his early days with the Ritz-Carlton, the Montage appealed to Chef Wilson because it is “still in the boutique stage”. Amazing chefs with deep passion had complete freedom to create and make their particular Ritz the best it could be. Today, he is that chef at the Montage and his apprentice cooks are equally passionate and eager to learn from him. He loves being a mentor to them in a personal one-on-one way, as he was mentored by Ritz-Carlton royalty like Jean Pierre Dubray and Christian Rassinoux.
Chef Wilson has a myriad of responsibilities at the Montage and, make no mistake, he finds himself cooking on the line quite often. He “never stops cooking”; it is just a matter of where he will be. The Montage hosts a litany of banquets and weddings, and he often finds himself organizing the events and determining what the “action stations” will be. Once he creates the menus and decides the station break down, he has to teach the cooks on the stations exactly how he wants the dishes to be executed. These menus are prone to
changing on a daily basis according to the function type and clients’ wishes. He attends many public relations and fundraising events and donates his time for charities. On any given day, he may find himself cooking a seven course meal at the residence of the highest bidder.
One of the restaurants in the resort, Mosaic, does 350 plus covers a night and his help is often needed cooking as well as expediting. With this type of volume, his trained eye is needed to check each plate andmake sure things are done properly; the last plate of the night needs to be just as perfect as the first. And if he is needed in the Loft, he will go there.
Being relatively new to the Montage, Chef Wilson has many plans and ideas he wants to implement, like coordinating with the Food and Beverage Department to start a winemaker dinner program. However, it is apparent that his immediate goals are broader and more about the dynamics and flow of the kitchens collectively. He wants to promote synergy between all of the back of the house areas and to develop aninterdependence like they have not experienced before. Like the waves that rise and fall on the shore of this coastal property, the flow of what goes on behind the scenes and the seamlessness of your experience atthis world-renowned getaway are largely orchestrated by Chef Rob Wilson.
Chef Rob Wilson
AVERAGE NUMBER OF HOURS YOU WORK IN A WEEK? A lot!
1ST COOKING OR FOOD-RELATED MEMORY: My mom teaching me how to flip an egg when I was five.
WHAT FIRST INTERESTED YOU IN THE HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY? Good food makes people happy and I enjoy making people happy.
FAVORITE KITCHEN GADGET OR TOOL: My “Horsepower Kitchen” Taco Cart (thanks Turbosonics & Lu Lyall).
FAVORITE KITCHEN APPLIANCE: Vitamix blender.
FAVORITE TYPE OF COOKWARE: All-Clad.
FAVORITE CONDIMENT/SPICE: Mae Ploy and Star Anise.
BIGGEST MYTH ABOUT WORKING IN THE KITCHEN: Not all chefs have to have the “Gordon Ramsey” attitude in the kitchen to get effective results.
HOBBIES: Surfing, stand-up paddle boarding, snowboarding, motocross, and golf.
FAVORITE OC RESTAURANT:Amber’s Cantina.
FAVORITE RAW INGREDIENT: Ahi Tuna and Avocados.
WHAT 3 WORDS BEST DESCRIBE YOUR CULINARY STYLE? Creative, Seasonal, Spontaneous.
The Montage Hotel Laguna Beach
30801 South Coast Hwy.
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
WWW.MONTAGELAGUNABEACH.COMBasil Butter Poached Maine Lobster with White Balsamic Vanilla Bean Vinaigrette
Poached Maine Lobster
2 1.5 lb Maine lobsters – live
1 lb Unsalted Butter
1 bunch Fresh Basil
12 Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes- halved
1 Avocado – halved, pit removed, and cut into 1/4s;
remove the skin and cut each 1/4 into 4 pieces
2 Navel Oranges – peeled, segments removed
Micro Basil or small basil leaves
Sea Salt and Pepper To Taste
Blanch the lobster in salted boiling water for 7 minutes. Remove and place them in an ice bath. To clean, remove the head from the tail and separate the knuckles and claws. Next, remove the knuckle and claw meat from the shell. To remove the tail meat from the shell, cut the tail in half and gently remove the
meat. Slowly melt the butter in a medium saute pan and add the basil. Allow the basil to steep in the butter for 5 minutes. Turn the basil butter to low heat and add the lobster. Poach the lobster for 3-4 minutes, just to heat through.
White Balsamic Vanilla Bean Vinaigrette
2 Shallots – minced
2 TDijon Mustard
1 Vanilla Bean – halved; scrape the vanilla out of the
inside of the bean with the tip of a knife
3 oz White Balsamic Vinegar
1 T Honey
10-12 oz Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper to Taste
On your plate of choice, assemble the tomatoes, orange segments, avocado, and lobster. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the salad. Garnish with basil, sea salt and pepper.