Featured Chef | Chef Craig Strong
The Studio at Montage Laguna Beach
The Studio | 30801 S Coast Hwy | Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Studio is open Tuesday through Sunday from 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Reservations may be made calling (949) 715-6420.
By far one of the most exquisite resorts in Southern California is the Montage, Laguna Beach. Basking in the breathtaking landscapes of the Pacific Ocean, this is a 5-star coastal resort that exemplifies prestige and sophistication without being stuffy. When you pull up to the Montage you are greeted by a palatial entry that leads into a beautiful lounge and bar that overlook the glorious Pacific and a pool that can only be described as “grand”. If you look just past the pool, down on the grounds below, to the right is Mosaic Bar and Grill and just below that on a grassy nook is The Studio. The Studio is a restaurant that makes you want to inhale and breathe in the phenomenal appeal of both beauty and intrigue. Executive Chef of The Studio is Chef Craig Strong. The first time I met Chef Strong I had come into the restaurant rather late, sat at the Community Table with my guest, and immediately was greeted by Tosana, the wonderful Bartender. After ordering a cocktail, I asked if the Chef was in. To my surprise he was just in front of me speaking to other guests. Not only does Chef ALWAYS have a smile on his face, he is one of the most genuinely kind people I’ve ever come across. He was gracious and spoke to us as if we were old friends and that is how is he with every guest.
After speaking with him for a while, he inquired as to what we liked to eat and we told him we were interested in trying the Tasting Menu he’d prepared but had a question. Were there were any gluten-free options for the Chef’s Tasting Menu (aside from the obvious)? He smiled and said, “we will make sure there are”. With that he excused himself and gracefully headed back to the kitchen and soon after, a server appeared with a basket of warm bread. Chef Strong was not only willing to adapt the tasting menu but sent out gluten-free breads that had been gently toasted so that I could experience what any other guest would. This is only one of many incredible moments I’ve enjoyed at The Studio thanks to Chef Strong. I have since returned several times and now, knowing my tastes, Chef Strong continues to surprise me with his kindness, his willingness to prepare any dish, and his love for what he does. While he is a highly decorate chef, there is nothing pretentious or entitled about him. He is simply a wonderful person and a very talented chef.
As I’ve gotten to know Chef, I have grown to admire him even more. During the course of one of our conversations, I remember him telling me that his hope was to have his own herb and vegetable garden on the property. I am pleased to say that his vision came to fruition and you can now see several rows of stoned encased rectangular gardens plentiful in fresh ingredients just outside of the restaurant. If you’re lucky, on occasion you’ll even get to see a rather humorously dressed scarecrow! Chef Craig Strong of The Studio is above par in every way from the service of his staff to his plate presentation to the integrity and sheer joy he exude that extends into every reach of the restaurant. While it’s near impossible not to feel as if you’ve entered a small bite of heaven at the Studio (and the Montage), the fare, the ambiance, and the class that emits from every direction makes this an experience you must engage in.
Thank you to Chef Craig Strong and to Lauren Crowley for making this piece possible.
Where did your passion for food begin?
At home in San Diego in our family garden. I wanted to know how our food transformed from a seed to the delicious meals on our table.
What is your favorite childhood memory ?
First time I made apple pie with my Grandma Strong. I remember cutting the butter into the flour with two knives.
What is your absolute favorite thing to make?
My lemon tart – delicious
When you’re at home, what is your guilty pleasure?
If you were asked to make one meal to appeal to everyone for an important dinner, what would it be and why?
How did the concept of The Studio arise?
With a panoramic oceanfront location and modern French cuisine infused with California influences, Studio is the portrait of beachside indulgence.
A refined and inventive menu reflects masterful attention to detail accented with an elegant, creative touch. Since its debut in early 2003, Studio at Montage Laguna Beach has become a culinary destination for discerning gourmets and oenophiles alike.
Set on an oceanfront bluff in the artistic village of Laguna Beach, Studio is designed to captivate the senses. Ocean breezes, sweeping views and lush landscapes create a refreshing sense of place at the water’s edge and a fitting backdrop for the shared enjoyment of fine food and wine. Situated facing due west, the Craftsman-inspired restaurant – reminiscent of an elegant yet charming beach cottage – treats guests to a striking view through expansive doors and windows, often open to the refreshing ocean breeze.
Custom-built wine vaults flank the entryway and spotlight more than 2,500 bottles of the restaurant’s wine collection. The unique, turn-of-the-century bar adds a sophisticated and classic touch, while the large communal bar area offers an interactive dining experience for sampling fine wines or small tastes from the restaurant’s award-winning kitchen. The picturesque dining room seats up to 80 guests and perfectly captures the feeling of the area’s early Plein Air paintings. Rich, dark browns and rustic wood beams combine with elegant shades of cream and sand to create classic and warm décor with modern sensibilities. Tables are well spaced throughout the dining room to ensure an intimate experience and are appointed with carefully selected linens, the finest Raynaud china, and classic Riedel glassware.
For a more intimate dining experience, guests can enjoy the private dining room overlooking the Pacific Ocean, or for the ultimate indulgence, guests can arrange to dine at the Chef’s Table, a warmly appointed dining room adjacent to the kitchen, complete with a stone fireplace and the interactive attention of Chef Craig Strong and his staff. Guests will create a menu and wine pairings based on personal preference or place themselves in the hands of the Chef to create a unique tasting menu for the evening. Guests at the Chef’s Table also have the opportunity to watch the evening unfold in the kitchen and learn about its design, which echoes that of a residential French country kitchen. Warm granite surfaces, tiled floors and walls, and Craftsman-style cabinetry frame the imported focal points of this French kitchen, including an exclusive Molteni range and Pavailler ovens.
The cuisine of Studio is Modern French with California influences. Chef Craig Strong draws inspiration from a breadth of cultures to create succulent dishes that pay homage to the bountiful fruits and vegetables of our region. Because of his strong relationships with local organic farmers, Chef Strong has exceptional access to the finest seasonal and artisanal products, making them the star attractions of his ever-changing menus.
To complement the cuisine of Studio, talented sommeliers have carefully assembled an artful collection of more than 2,500 boutique and esoteric selections. The educated sommeliers are always on hand to offer pairing suggestions, tastes of hard-to-acquire vintages and help in creating specialized menus for guests based on their wine preferences.
What city would you most want to visit to indulge in culinary-wise?
What is your favorite cocktail? Favorite wine? Favorite Beer?
(If you have one!)
What is your favorite smell?
What does your Sous Chef call you?
Chef or Cheifo
What is your vision for The Studio and beyond?
The Studio dining experience, does not have to be reserved for special occasions, it is available for everyday occasions. Studio has a communal table and bar where you can have a full multi-course meal, or just a light appetizer and a glass of wine. Fine dining twenty years ago was uptight, pretentious, that doesn’t fit my personality. Studio offers the freshest ingredients, and finest service in a comfortable and beautiful oceanfront location.
(You have created one of the most exquisite, non-pretentious, quality dining experiences in all of Orange County. – ATOD)
Chef Craig Strong’s Bio
Chef Craig Strong joined Montage Laguna Beach as Executive Chef of Studio in June 2009. Chef Strong, known for his modern French cuisine with California influences, developed a love for cooking at an early age. One of eight children growing up in San Diego, he was inspired by his mother and grandmother to first experiment with tomatoes and zucchini grown in the family’s vegetable garden that was his to manage. At age 19, he attended L’Academie de Cuisine near Washington, D.C., where he studied under some of the most respected chefs in the area, including Chefs Françoise and Pascal Dinot.
Most recently, Chef Strong was Chef de Cuisine to what is now The Langham, Huntington Hotel & Spa’s Dining Room in Pasadena, Calif. During his eight-year tenure, he was responsible for all facets of the restaurant, including menu design and development. Under his direction, The Dining Room became one of Los Angeles’ top destination dining venues and a showcase for his love of pairing fine food with wine in ever-changing dishes, inventive tasting menus for winemaker dinners and delicious special events. He and the restaurant received many accolades, including Michelin One-star ratings in 2007 and 2008; Gourmet magazine ’60 World’s Best Hotel Dining Rooms,’ Los Angeles Times 3 Star Rating, Food & Wine ’50 Best Hotel Restaurants’ and California Homes magazine ‘#1 Hotel Restaurant.’ Strong was named runner-up Chef of the Year by Angeleno magazine; was a semi finalist in the 2009 James Beard Foundation Awards for Best Chef/Pacific.
From 1990 to 1994, Chef Strong held numerous culinary positions, including Saucier at La Caille in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah; the Capitol Club at Hyatt Regency, Washington, D.C.; Sous Chef at the fine dining Glitretind Restaurant at Stein Erikson Lodge in Deer Valley, Utah; First Assistant to Chef at the Adams Mark Hotel in Philadelphia, and then at The Ritz-Carlton, Philadelphia, where he honed classic techniques with Asian influences. In 1995, he moved to Atlanta to work at The Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead, as Garde Manger with Chef Guenter Seeger and then as Saucier and Tournant with Chef Joel Antunes, whose classically trained French background added yet another international dimension to Strong’s style.
Chef Strong then moved to Europe as Sous Chef for The Newport Room at the Hotel Arts in Barcelona, the fine dining restaurant in a property managed by Ritz-Carlton. Working in Spain added another facet to Chef Strong’s cooking. The emphasis on olive oil, fresh seafood and the Mediterranean climate, similar to that of Southern California, led Chef Strong to embrace the bold flavors and rustic style of Spanish cuisine, adding the refinement of French techniques.
The concept and overall experience of Studio is dedicated to highlighting the best this idyllic location has to offer—pristine ingredients from local purveyors, unsurpassed views of the Pacific Ocean and an elegantly comfortable approach to the dining experience.
Studio has most recently been recognized with Three Stars from Los Angeles Times, Five Stars from Mobil Travel Guide, Robb Report as one of ‘America’s Finest Dining Restaurants,’ and Food & Wine magazine’s ‘Top 50 Hotel Restaurants’. Studio has also earned the ‘Best of Award of Excellence’ from Wine Spectator and is rated one of Zagat Survey’s ‘America’s Top Restaurants’.