World-Class Pastry Chefs Dish on the Sweet Life in Newport Beach
From its yacht-lined harbor to its renowned surfing waves, Newport Beach provides the perfect mixture of beach-town charm and luxury amenities. When it comes to the sweet life in this iconic SoCal playground, who better than area pastry artisans to discuss the epicurean possibilities? We caught up with three world-class chefs, each specializing in tempting confections with palate-pleasing appeal: Marché Moderne’s Amelia Marneau, OAK Grill’s Andy De La Cruz, Pelican Hill’s Jeff Lehuede, and Moulin’s Owner Laurent Vrignaud.
From what called them to a vocation in pastry to their favorite decadent treats, find out why these patisserie professionals savor life in Newport Beach one bite at a time.
Marché Moderne’s Chef Amelia Marneau
Chef Amelia, with her husband Chef Florent, run one of Southern California’s most highly acclaimed restaurants, Marché Moderne. Tucked along the coast, this culinary gem has served up the best in modern and rustic French cuisine since 2007. But Amelia’s history with cooking, and, more particularly pastries, has even deeper roots.
As Amelia recalls, “I was drawn to cooking at age 16. Growing up with my Italian grandmother, who had very limited cooking abilities, inspired me to learn how to cook, and, then, I just fell in love with pastry.” That love of pastry led her to work in acclaimed restaurants such as the Michelin star Les Amassadeurs in Hotel de Crillon Paris.
Her Continental upbringing infuses her pastry philosophy, shunning overly sweet desserts in favor of the subtle delicacy typified by fine Italian and French confections. She relishes the delectable pairing of warm and cold typified by fresh-baked cakes served with a luxurious dollop of ice cream.
But when it comes to her customer’s favorite treats? She can’t contain her excitement as she discusses macarons: “My macarons are favorites in our restaurant. You’ll always find them on our menu, and I like to offer seasonal varieties and flavors. My current favorite is our Café Au Lait with Mascarpone Chantilly. It’s my take on the classic Tiramisu. My favorite changes as the seasons change, and I love being able to incorporate all of the lovely seasonal produce and ingredients that California has to offer.”
Chef Amelia’s effervescent love for Newport Beach, like a newly-popped bottle of Veuve Clicquot, bubbles over: “Nothing beats living in this gorgeous coastal town, not to mention all of the amazing shopping and restaurants close by.”
OAK Grill’s Chef Andy De La Cruz
OAK Grill is known for its artisanal approach to California cuisine, spotlighting farm-fresh local ingredients. But Chef Andy’s desserts represent the grill’s culinary version of a triumphant “mic drop.” And they bring a room to silence as conversation gives way to the act of savoring every exquisite morsel.
Crafting food is in Chef Andy’s blood. “I grew up in a family that owned a Mexican food business. As a kid, I enjoyed baking at home and sharing my creations with a fellow classmate who also loved baking. My first exposure to a pastry shop was in a buffet restaurant, and I realized there that baking was a calling for me.” This passion for cooking led to what is now a 25-year career in pastry with stints at SoCal landmarks such as the Sheraton Hotel and the iconic Beverly Hills Hotel.
With 12 years now under his belt at OAK Grill, his pastry philosophy proves simple but oh-so-satisfying in its gastronomic manifestations: “Understanding my guests’ wants and needs and using this knowledge to give them an emotional connection through my creations. When creating a menu or dish, if it’s for a specific guest or event, I like to infuse the human connection as to what ties the dessert to the theme. When I create a dish or cake that catches, resonates, reminds the person of something memorable, I’ve done my job.”
What’s OAK Grill’s most celebrated dessert? Their Pineapple Butter Cake followed by their Seasonal Cheesecake crafted around the freshest ingredients available at the moment. As for Andy’s personal favorite, he has trouble choosing between all of his beloved creations. But one dish does stand out: “One that resonated with me was the Coconut Chocolate Cremeux. I got my inspiration from watching my father enjoy an Almond Joy candy bar. The dessert combined the flavors of chocolate, coconut, and almond with a blue chocolate garnish representing the candy wrapper.”
As for the sweet life in Newport Beach, Chef Andy treasures the community that he’s become a part of over the past 12 years: “It is an ideal place to be and live in. People love the OC’s beautiful weather, and it’s very visible by the amount of people you see out walking, which makes me want to be here and enjoy the benefits, too. The people in Newport Beach are very family-oriented, and it really resonates with me being a family man myself.”
Pelican Hill’s Chef Jeff Lehuede
Pelican Hill’s offerings are built on an elegant, mouthwatering premise — we eat with our eyes first. From the restaurant’s spectacular alfresco ocean views to its open kitchen and chef’s table, this modern American grill proves a feast for the senses. As Chef Jeff, Pelican Hill’s Executive Chef for nearly 20 years, says, “The food should be the decoration. It should look good and taste even better.”
Chef Jeff’s creations have taken him all over the world, the result of an undeniable passion for his craft. “Pastry chose me. I’ve known Pelican Hill’s Executive Chef for nearly 20 years, and he invited me to join his team in May 2010. Before Pelican Hill, I was Pastry Chef at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, as well as Mandarin Oriental Hotels in Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Indonesia. I spent my apprenticeship in France and received my Master Certificate in Pastry as a teenager. I started my career as a pastry chef for the Michelin-rated restaurant, Le Pre Catalan, in Paris.”
As for his pastry philosophy, Chef Jeff understands the importance of teamwork. “I’m always collaborating with my pastry team on putting a twist on our creations and learning through the process. For example, our annual holiday gingerbread gets bigger and more exquisite each year. Last year, we were inspired by Versace designs, so the gingerbread village had lots of ornate gold, sleek satin finishes, and black, light pink, and light blue hues.”
His favorite dessert is an ode to flavor, the Passionfruit Crunchy Chocolate Cake. As for what Chef Jeff adores most about Newport Beach? “I like the beautiful climate and Mediterranean feel of Newport Beach because it reminds me of home and my time working in the south of France.”
Moulin’s Owner Laurent Vrignaud
Since September 2014, Moulin has made good on its goal of transporting diners to France. From the smell of freshly baking bread to the restaurant’s signature slow-cooked rotisserie chicken, Moulin represents an exquisite experience. One to be lingered over and savored, like a fine glass of wine. Laurent is the brainchild behind this “little slice of France in the middle of Orange County.”
Like many residents of Newport Beach, Laurent was attracted by California surf culture nearly 35 years ago. But he never forgot his roots. Born and raised in Paris’s iconic Montmartre neighborhood, he grew up surrounded by French bistro culture and developed strong work ethic helping out in his grandparents’ Parisian market. “Today, Moulin allows me to share the story of France and its culture in the most authentic way possible — through classic, fresh-baked breads, traditional dishes, and exceptional artisan pastries.”
His customers have many favorites including the St. Honoré, Napoleon, and the Tropezienne. His personal favorite? The tarte fine à l’abricot, a perfectly balanced homage to ripe apricots. His pastry philosophy threads its way through every delightful, delicious creation — authenticity.
What does Laurent prize most about life in the area? “Not only does Newport Beach have a large French population, but overall it is a melting pot of culture. At Moulin, we serve hundreds of French customers each week; everyday our restaurant is filled with people from all around the world and well-traveled guests who tell us they feel as if they’re back in Paris.”
Written By: Engrid Barnett