We searched Orange County to find ten of the most knowledgeable and well-rounded cuisine experts. These Orange County locals have voted on Orange County's restaurants and have put together a list of the best. Below are the individuals dedicated to promoting and improving food culture in our lovely southland.
Chefs and Restauranteurs
Chef Marc Cohen
Chef Marc Cohen has been serving fine food in eclectic Laguna Beach for over a decade. Cohen acquired his culinary training at Johnson & Wales University where he received accolades for his imagination and artistry. While training, Cohen was honored with an invitation to be a part of the Chaine des Rotisseurs Culinary Olympic Team. After developing his skills on the East Coast and rising to the ranks of Washington DC's top 100 chefs, Marc was lured to the West Coast and opened 230 Forest Avenue in Laguna Beach in 1994. As Cohen's reputation grew, he launched subsequent ventures Opah and Watermac.
In 2005, Cohen was recognized by the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association and received the prestigious Silver Plate Award for his culinary contributions. Cohen's restaurants continue to be a hot spot for Laguna Beach dining and he continues to be named one of the top chefs in Orange County.
Chef Craig Connole
Recognized in the media as "Best Chef in Orange County March 2010", Chef Craig Connole is hailed for his creative approach to cuisine. Born and raised in Newport Beach, Chef Craig started his career at Gina's Pizza in Corona del Mar in the 1980s.
After making his name around Southern California with flavorful stints at the Four Seasons, Meriden, and Windows on the Bay in Newport Beach, he accomplished six successful years at the Ritz Carlton Kapalua. After venturing to the modern-day restaurant Mecca in Las Vegas, Nevada, Connole returned to his roots when the owners of La Casa del Camino lured him back to Laguna Beach with an invitation to reinvent the restaurant at their hotel. As a surfer at heart, this California native has been known to hit the waves before he hits the kitchen.
Chef Mark McDonald
Chef Mark McDonald of Old Vine Café continues to redefine the Orange County food scene, offering both top-quality products and innovative preparations in a non-pretentious, casual atmosphere. Old Vine Cafe serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with menu items promoting regionalism and the use of seasonal ingredients, a hallmark of Chef Mark’s culinary training with Chef John Nocita at the Italian Culinary Institute in Calabria, Italy. Prior to his studies in southern Italy, Chef Mark studied under Chef Laurent Brazier at Laguna Culinary Arts.
Chef Mark’s passion for introducing unique foods and wines to customers has deepened through collaborations with winemakers, along with culinary experiences during his personal travels. In recent months, Chef Mark has worked with winemakers from all over the world, exploring new food pairings and building his historical and cultural understandings of the regions. These collaborations often culminate in Community Wine Diners, during which diners explore a specific region or winery through an educational, seven-course food and wine pairing dinner. Chef Mark’s international dining experiences are also reflected in his menu offerings: His search for fresh interpretations of traditionally simple, regional dishes drives the creativity behind the often-changing seasonal tasting menu.
Chef Mark’s engagement with his customers and community doesn’t end there. He recently led the first annual Splendors of South Italy tour, a culinary-driven trip through Calabria and Sicily which treated travelers to hands-on cooking lessons from master chefs, winery and agritourismo visits, and multi-course meals featuring regional cuisine. Additionally, Chef Mark teaches cooking classes to both young “aspiring chefs” at local elementary schools, and adult students pursing professional culinary education.
Chef James Hamamori
Born and raised in a small village in Japan, Chef James Hamamori delivers his Japanese heritage and culinary expertise while serving sushi at Hamamori Sushi in Crystal Court, South Coast Plaza.
Chef Hamamori's California culinary history began in Orange County in 2001 after spending the 80's and 90's developing his culinary skill at Asakuma in Los Angeles. Here, Chef Hamamori forged his concept of "new generation" sushi and developed a hollywood fan-base , which includes Dustin Hoffman and Cindy Crawford. In 2001, Chef Hamamori connected with business partner Bronnie Lee and relocated to Orange County. Together they have successfully opened several Wasa Sushi restaurants as well as the restaurant that carries his namesake in Costa Mesa.
Chef Hamamori prides himself on using only the freshest ingredients available in order to create h distinctive dishes which are a feast for the eyes, as well as the stomach.
Chef Bernard Althaus
Born and raised on the west side of the Alps, Chef Althaus brings an earnest French/Swiss sensibility to his cuisine. Educated in Lausanne, he served his apprenticeship there working at Chalet Suisse. He then ventured to the U.S. where he served as the chef for the French team of the 1970 America's Cup. He then continued this journey as a private chef on charters in the Caribbean before returning to Switzerland.
In the early 90’s, Chef Althaus relocated to Orange County and began cooking alongside fellow Swiss, Ernst Zingg at Le Celler in Fullerton. Spending almost two years at Newport Beach's Pascal restaurant, he then dedicated over five years at Mezzanine restaurant. His restaurant Basilic opened in 1997. At home he harvests his own garden to produce the fresh herbs used in his dishes and grows the yellow and red, organic, heirloom tomatoes found in the seasonal Special Salad. Chef Althaus also stops by the local Farmer's Market everyday to look for fresh and organic produce. In the kitchen, he prepares every dish to order, making sure each plate is served to perfection.
Anita Lau has lived in Orange County since 1996, but has been a food critic and writer for 20+ years in both Hong Kong and the United
States. She is the author of the cookbook "Asian Greens" and currently pens the blog "diary of a Mad Hungry Woman", as well as
contributing to several online media publications. She also runs MHW Strategies, a company specializing in restaurant and menu
consulting, social media and copywriting. What she looks for when eating out is simple: consistency from visit-to-visit, and if the
product's quality, exicution, presentation and taste equal the price paid.
Official Blog - Mad Hungry Woman
Daniel Schoonover owns and writes for the restaurant review site www.eatinoc.com which has been recognized by several cuisine media venues as a top-ten food-focused information destination in Orange County. Born in Orange County, Daniel grew up in Stanton and now resides in Orange with his wife, two cats, and two dogs. On the weekends, Daniel enjoys having breakfast somewhere near Old Towne Orange or experimenting new recipes with his self-built BBQ smoker. In his non-food time you can find Daniel cheering on the Los Angeles Dodgers, USC Trojan Football, and the San Francisco 49ers.
Official Blog - Eat in OC
Shelly Borrell is a freelance copywriter who is most inspired by food. She has won recipe contests, food competitions and currently publishes Nibbles of Tidbits, an Orange County food blog. Shelly has written hundreds of reviews and continually explores Orange County to fined new and unique dining destinations. She’s lived in Orange County most of her life and looks for value, quality and uniqueness in a good restaurant. Her favorite pastimes are breakfast, lunch and dinner!
Official Blog - Nibbles of Tidbits
Griffin Tamura is a local Orange County food writer who catalogues his dining experiences on his website - GriffinEatsOC.com. Along with Dan, Griffin has also been recognized by cuisine media venues as a top ten food writer/blogger in Orange County. Griffin has always had a passion for writing, but he started his website because he had a hard time remembering what he liked and disliked at all the restaurants he went to! After launching his site, Griffins gift for writing and extensive reviews inspired thousands of followers who continue to enjoy reading his musings. Griffin enjoys all kinds of food, from hole-in-the-wall diners to fine dining five-star restaurants. He gives an honest opinion of all his dining experiences, and loves to discuss differences of opinions with fellow foodies. Griffin has lived in Orange County for around 30 years and continues to discover new places to eat in OC.
Official Blog - GriffinEatsOC
Grant is a culinary adventurer who brings his global awareness and international dining experiences to the Local Cuisine panel. Born and raised in Fullerton, Grant has spent years traveling throughout Europe and Asia where he has developed his palate. Whether dining on pasta in Italty, crepes in France, saag paneer in India, or pad thai in Thailand, Grant has a taste for the authentic and lends this expertise when dining locally.