For Chef Ryan Crawford, Southern California cuisine is not a style, but a state of mind.
For Chef Ryan Crawford, Southern California cuisine is not a style, but a state of mind. Oceana’s Executive Chef, who honed his skills in the kitchens of some of the state’s most lauded resorts, now brings his culinary talents to our Santa Monica restaurant — or your ocean view suite — creating a harmonious composition of local flavors with an unforgettable dining experience.
Chef Ryan doesn’t come from a hospitality family, but rather one that embraced the joy of how good food and wine brought people together. His parents threw monthly wine tasting parties, where a young Ryan was captivated by the community this inspired — a lifelong love affair was kindled, even if he didn’t recognize it at the time.
A Los Angeles native, Chef Ryan shares which wines he recommends with the new winter menu, the one local ingredient that inspires him the most, and how guests can recreate Oceana’s fine dining at home.
WHAT WAS YOUR JOURNEY TO BECOMING A CHEF?
The expectation both from my parents and of myself was that I would be a lawyer like my mom. But when I was at UCSB, I was not at all interested in what I had always thought I would be. I sort of reluctantly decided to try something else — and that was cooking. It occurred to me that maybe that was really where my passion was. So I went to culinary school in Pasadena, and I loved everything about it.
WHAT CULINARY EXPERIENCES WERE MOST INFLUENTIAL FOR YOU?
I got my first job at Terranea in Palos Verdes. I learned how to cook quickly — and well — in an upscale restaurant, and I worked my way up to Sous Chef, where I learned how to manage a team, a menu, and a budget.
I took a job as a Sous Chef at L’Ermitage Hotel in Beverly Hills, which was sort of my first foray into more serious fine dining. L’Ermitage was revelatory. I experienced real respect for my own individual craft and technique, and I was given the mentorship and the tools to move forward. After a couple of years there, it felt right to move on and find my own way.
THERE IS SOMETHING ARTISTIC ABOUT YOUR CULINARY CREATIONS AND THEIR USE OF LOCAL INGREDIENTS. WHAT INSPIRES YOU MOST ABOUT SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA'S CUISINE?
How free-form it is. There really isn’t a “So Cal” cuisine per se; to me, it’s more of a state of mind. Southern California is such a melting pot of disparate national cuisines — the underlying factor that unites them is just this wonderful natural bounty we have. I love that you can find some of the best representations of different cuisines on pretty much every corner of the city.
Being surrounded by all of that, and having the community as a whole gain such a heightened reputation in the years that I’ve been cooking, has really inspired me to push the boundaries and enjoy the variety that So Cal has to offer.
CALIFORNIA IS HOME TO A BOUNTY OF FRESH PRODUCE. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE LOCAL INGREDIENT TO WORK WITH?
At Oceana, I’m lucky to be right up the street from the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market, where farmers sell a wonderful variety of fruits and vegetables.
My favorite local ingredient is fennel. The root has a lovely, mild, almost onion- and celery- flavor that is a lovely flavoring for everything from soups, to salads, to sauces, purees, and so much more. The bright yellow pollen makes a delicate but colorful addition to seafood and starches, and the seed — ground or whole — is an integral part of so many Mediterranean seasonings. (I particularly love them candied, like Jordan Almonds).
WHAT FEELING DO YOU WANT OCEANA GUESTS TO LEAVE WITH AFTER THEY EAT?
Above all, I want Oceana guests to be satisfied that they’ve had an excellent meal, with friendly and attentive service, delivered by people who genuinely care about what they’re doing. I believe we do that here, and I work hard to make sure that it stays that way.
WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT FAVORITE WINE AND MEAL PAIRING?
I’ve been replating our bone-in filet for the winter, and it will be great with a crisp white or a full-bodied red. I prefer rich, jammy, fruit-forward zinfandels and cabernets. We have eight excellent cabernets and three beautifully robust zinfandels on Oceana’s wine list (among many more), all excellent for tucking into a perfectly cooked bone-filet.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR GUESTS THAT ARE LOOKING TO RECREATE THEIR FAVORITE OCEANA MEALS AT HOME?
I don’t have secrets when it comes to my food. Pretty much everything we make has a recipe. Most of what makes restaurant food different from what you — myself included — can cook at home is the equipment and the technique.