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Host Chef Gregg Wangard of Ocean & Vine at The Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel - Los Angeles Rising Star on StarChefs.com

Photo Credit: Jon Deshler

Gregg Wangard
Ocean and Vine at the Loews Santa Monica Hotel
1700 Ocean Ave.
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 458-6700

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Interview:
Antoinette Bruno: Why did you start cooking? What or who inspired you to become a chef?
Gregg Wangard: I started cooking when I was around 14 years old. I used to help my grandmother cook Thanksgiving dinner for our family.

AB: Did you attend culinary school? Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs today? Do you only hire chefs with culinary school backgrounds?
GW: I went through an American Culinary Federation Accredited Apprenticeship. I think that some sort of culinary education is important but not completely necessary. I hire chefs with all sorts of backgrounds, not just those with a culinary school background.

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Gregg Wangard
OCEAN and VINE AT THE LOEWS SANTA MONICA HOTEL | Los Angeles


Biography
Growing up in the small town of Brandon, Wisconsin, Chef Gregg Wangard developed an appreciation for farm-fresh ingredients and bountiful cuisine at an early age. Gregg realized his passion for food while working with his grandmother in the kitchen at family holidays. From the age of seven, Gregg helped his grandmother prepare feasts using the freshest vegetables and eggs.

Gregg began his culinary career while washing dishes in a small café in his hometown, where his older brother was behind the stove in the kitchen. He enjoyed the fast pace of the kitchen atmosphere and use of simple yet flavorful ingredients. During his last year of high school, he shadowed a chef at The American Club in Kohler, Wisconsin, and shortly thereafter accepted a three-year American Culinary Federation (ACF) accredited apprenticeship and began culinary arts classes at the Waukesha Technical College in Wisconsin.

The following winter, Gregg was asked to join an elite group of 12 students in an internship program at the Rosewood Caneel Bay Resort on the island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, an internationally renowned Caribbean destination. Gregg spent the next three years apprenticing at The American Club in the summer and traveling to Caneel Bay to master the art of Caribbean cuisine in the winter. It was here that he met his match in the kitchen and in life, Kelly Wangard, who is now his wife and also an acclaimed culinarian and currently serves as executive chef for Lot 1224 Restaurant and Director of Food and Beverage for Loews Beverly Hills Hotel.

After finishing his apprenticeship, Gregg obtained a position as chef de cuisine of Cucina Restaurant in Kohler, Wisconsin and then moved to The Immigrant Room & Winery Bar at The American Club, the Midwest's only AAA Five Diamond property. There, he introduced a creative menu featuring seasonal delicacies such as seared foie gras with apple-raisin oatmeal cookie and signature cheese dishes.

During his two years at The Immigrant Room, Gregg made extensive use of the hotel's cheese locker, which housed more than 45 regional cheeses. Visits to local dairy farms and cheese makers instilled in Gregg a fond appreciation for the meticulous technique used in making cheeses.

In late 2004, Gregg and his wife Kelly moved west for the opportunity to work with Loews Hotels. Taking the reigns in the kitchen in the newly opened Ocean and Vine Restaurant, Gregg brings a fresh approach to American cuisine to match the restaurant's casually elegant setting. Gregg enjoys weekly visits to the Santa Monica Farmer's Market to seek out the freshest ingredients and develop new menu items. Ocean and Vine's famed Fondue and High Society Cheese flight reflect Gregg's Wisconsin roots and his passion for cheese. Signature dishes include Prince Edward Island Steamed Mussels, Hawaiian Big Eyed Tuna, and an Angus Fillet with Black Truffle Vinaigrette.

Today, while leading the culinary operations at Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel's new restaurant, Ocean and Vine, Gregg taps into his childhood memories by using local ingredients to create a unique approach to American cuisine for the Los Angeles restaurant scene.

When he's not in the kitchen, Gregg, can be found riding his bike on the Santa Monica Shore playing basketball, tennis and following the Green Bay Packers. He is always searching for new ideas and ingredients in the field. Gregg and his wife Kelly live in Santa Monica with their dog, Champagne.

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Interview Cont'd
AB: Who are your mentors? What are some of the most important things you’ve learned from them?
GW: My grandmother was my biggest mentor. She taught me the importance of basic ingredients and good seasoning. I also learned a great deal from Rhys Lewis who I worked with at the American Club. He taught me the importance of being a people person as well as a good chef. Chef Hans Schalder, who I worked with in the Caribbean, taught me great work ethic and consistency.

AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
GW: My philosophy is to keep it simple with fresh ingredients and proper technique.

AB: Are there any secret ingredients that you especially like?
GW: Chinese long peppers because of the taste and flavor.

AB: What is your most indispensable kitchen tool?
GW: My knife from Global is the one thing that I can’t live without.

AB: Is there a culinary technique that you have either created or use in an unusual way?
GW: The way I make foie gras mousse – in a plastic bag and boiled.

AB: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
GW: My favorite question to ask is “Why should I hire you?” Then I have them cook for me.

AB: What tips would you offer young cooks just getting started?
GW: Get as much kitchen experience as early as possible.

AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
GW: Anything from Charlie Trotter.

AB: What cities do you like for culinary travel?
GW: Las Vegas.

AB: What are your favorite restaurants – off the beaten path – in LA?
GW: Lares, a great Mexican place, and Neptune’s Net for fish.

AB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
GW: Progressive libraries of food.

AB: Where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years?
GW: Owning my own restaurant on the central coast in five years, being a successful restaurant owner in 10 years.

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  •    Published: May 2006

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