Before Jon Yao opened his heralded Taiwanese restaurant Kato in Los Angeles in 2017, he was on a different track, studying for the LSATs. Charles Olalia, the Filipino chef behind Los Angeles’ Ma’am Sir, felt obligated to follow in the steps of his doctor parents and take up medicine. Vietnamese food pioneer and San Francisco’s The Slanted Door mastermind Charles Phan’s parents pushed him to a career as an engineer or doctor, even though he dreamt of being a potter. DeeDee Niyomkul of Atlanta’s Chai Yo came from a family of well-known Thai chefs, but that presented its own set of pressures.
Their chef origin stories are fairly typical for children of Asian immigrants: parents prod them to pursue what they perceive to be successful careers, like medicine, law and engineering. Obviously, these culinary stars forged their own paths. Yet despite defying their parents’ wishes, the chefs revealed that what keeps them motivated day after day is their families.
The chefs shared their backstories and more at Montage Los Cabos’ new Culinary Series, a weekend of events centered on a food theme. “It’s important to tell a story through the lens of culture,” says hotel manager Victorio Gonzalez.
The gourmet gathering is an effort by the 2018-opened hotel to establish itself as a foodie destination beyond its modern Mexican fine-dining venue Mezcal and internationally influenced restaurant Marea. The ongoing series brings top chefs together to share their experiences and their food with Montage Los Cabos guests.
Each three-day weekend carries the same format: Fire Friday, a barbecue; Talks & Bites, a panel discussion; Aventura Culinaria, a five-course dinner; and a VIP farewell breakfast with the chefs. You can book events à la carte or the full package of foodie festivities. The next Culinary Series is set for December 13 to 15.
October’s Southeast Asian edition began with Fire Friday under the stars and strung lights on the Ocean Lawn, as the chefs cooked over flames.
Olalia’s savory linked longanisa sausage hung over a fire like a string of oversized meaty beads with “rice tamales” (Filipino sweet rice wrapped in banana leaves) toasting on the side. Yao offered a rich bite with his Mishimawagyu shortrib with Thai basil and Fresno chili, and Niyomkul added a flavor jolt with moo yang pork skewers, spicy papaya salad and sticky rice. Phan won over the crowd with large, luscious grilled scallops doused in a creamy lemongrass and chili beurre blanc.
The hotel also set up a couple of other stations, including one with desserts such as pumpkin crème custard topped with candied pepitas, coconut sorbet crowned with toasted coconut and lime shavings, and s’mores paletas (Mexican ice pops, which are a specialty at the property). A Veuve Clicquot cart kept everyone topped off with champagne, and a Clase Azul bar doled out tequila tastings.
As the live band’s guitar strumming mingled with plumes of smoke, foodies grazed among the outdoor stations. Because of the party’s limited size, there was never a line. This allowed attendees to linger and leisurely chat up the chefs, which was Montage Los Cabos’ goal.
“We thought it would be more meaningful to have intimate interactions to get to know the chefs,” hotel general manager Marco Ortlam says about the Culinary Series. “This brings people together for extraordinary food and beverage. We want to be a culinary destination. It’s only the beginning.”
The next day, about a dozen foodies joined the toques in the hotel’s Casa Twin Dolphin villa’s luxe living and dining room. As the chefs fielded audience questions on everything from their go-to comfort food to what inspires them, we sipped wine and noshed on bites they prepared beforehand, including a toasted sourdough cube slicked with buttery uni from Yao and a pan de sal (a sweet Filipino roll) doughnut drizzled with a pandan glaze (all recipes were provided to attendees afterward in a goodie bag with a Montage apron signed by all of the chefs).
The chefs flexed their epicurean muscles the following evening at Aventura Culinaria, a wine-paired dinner in Mezcal’s terrace next to the flickering fireplaces and infinity pool. Each chef prepared a course, and we were able to peek at the behind-the-scenes action with two TVs showing a live feed from the kitchen. Yao kicked off the meal with a light, fresh kombu-cured kanpachi with Sungold tomatoes and Thai basil.
Montage Los Cabos executive chef Xavier Salomon (known as “The Pope,” the well-connected toque is responsible for securing the stellar series lineups) took the next course: chilled, melt-in-your-mouth wagyu with salsa macha, panuchos (black-bean-filled tostadas), aged cotija and chile mole espuma.
Next came Phan’s daikon radish cake with spicy soy. Before dinner, he deprecatingly warned us about the unsightly appearance of the dish, but the rectangular slice was comforting and delicious.
Olalia served pancit palabok, noodles with Baja seafood and Mexican parsley in a shrimp sauce. Niyomkul followed it up with a tender grilled lamb chop, bamboo shoots, jungle curry eggplant, rhizome, Thai basil and a scoop of jasmine rice.
The weekend ended the next morning with one final meal. Phan and Olalia joined the foodies for a family-style breakfast. Over the three days, many of the attendees got to know each other, so it made for easy and fun conversation over flavorful chicken tamales, tropical fruit and loads of pastries. It was a fitting close to an intimate culinary weekend.
The Culinary Series debuted in July with a Maîtres Cuisiniers de France theme, featuring chefs Claude Le Tohic of One65 in San Francisco; Gerald Hirigoyen of Piperade in San Francisco; Eric Branger of The Ritz- Carlton, Los Angeles; and David Serus of Montage Laguna Beach.
December 13 to 15 will spotlight women in gastronomy, including Tanya Holland of San Francisco’s Brown Sugar Kitchen; Claudia Sandoval, a San Diego chef who serves as a judge on Telemundo’s MasterChef Latino; Kim Alter of San Francisco’s Nightbird; and Pia Quintana of Los Cabos’ La Lupita Tacos y Mezcal. And many more foodie experiences are in store for 2020 (February 7 to 9, May 29 to 31, July 17 to 19 and October 9 to 11).