Our acclaimed chefs hail from some of the country’s most prestigious dining rooms. With numerous accolades among them, they transform California-inspired cuisine into exquisite culinary art. Their Southern California restaurants and lounges blend spectacular views with innovative menus influenced by the local flavors of Laguna Beach.
Executive Chef, Studio Montage Laguna Beach
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 2007and 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’.
Executive Chef Rob Wilson joined Montage Laguna Beach in 2010 to oversee culinary operations with an emphasis on special events. As Executive Chef, he manages the day-to-day operations of the main kitchens and ensures that the best quality products are used throughout the property.
Chef Wilson has an extensive culinary background, and is a graduate of Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in New York. He began his culinary career when was just a teenager and started as a dishwasher at the Dana Point, California Chart House restaurant. He quickly worked his way to head cook and excelled from there.
His culinary path has included time at Surf and Sand Resort in Laguna Beach, California, where he worked as a Sous Chef, and he eventually went on to be co-owner and Executive Chef of , Cervino’s in Mammoth Lakes, California. Prior to joining Montage Laguna Beach, Chef Wilson spent the past thirteen years with The Ritz Carlton company, most recently serving as Executive chef at The Ritz Carlton, Laguna Niguel. Here he worked at various locations in California and was part of the opening team for seven of their hotels across the U.S. He was also named “Chef of the Year” in 2008 by Chef Magazine.
Chef Wilson enjoys the outdoors, and activities such as: surfing, stand up paddle boarding, snowboarding and riding motorcycles. He currently resides in Laguna Niguel, California with his wife and two children.
Executive Pastry Chef
Executive Pastry Chef Lee Smith, who has over 24 years of experience in the industry, leads a team of pastry chefs, chocolatiers and bakers, and works closely with the catering and conference services teams, as well as the resort restaurants, to create innovative pastry concepts for all guests. Chef Lee also develops the resort’s creative line-up of pastries, confections, breads, chocolates and in-room amenities.
After receiving his culinary degree from The South Field Culinary School in Leicestershire, England, Chef Lee completed a three-year apprenticeship at The Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire, Scotland under the guidance of legendary pastry chef Ian Ironside. Following his apprenticeship, Chef Lee worked for celebrated chefs such as Chef Michel Perraud, Chef Pierre Kouffman, and Chef Christian Germain in a series of Michelin one, two and three star restaurants in England and France.
The next twelve years of Chef Lee’s career consisted of working for Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts at hotels across three continents, followed by a career at The Peninsula Hotel Bangkok. At each hotel, Chef Lee was responsible for leading teams of bakers, Chocolatiers, ice cream makers, cake designers and pastry chefs to fulfill the highest expectations of international travelers.
The England native came to the United States in 1999 to work at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. Prior to joining the culinary team at Montage Laguna Beach, Chef Lee served as the Corporate Executive Pastry Chef for the Innovative Dining Group, based in California, where he developed multiple restaurant concepts for the greater Los Angeles area.
Chef Lee credits his success to “passion and love of my craft, continuation of a noble and ancient trade, and my ability to pass on that passion and knowledge.”
Chef de Cuisine, The Loft Montage Laguna Beach
As Chef de Cuisine for The Loft, Chef Casey Overton leads a winning team of chefs, sommeliers, servers and fromagier’s. The Loft strives to actively involve guests in their dining experience – from highlighting artisanal ingredients on the creative American menu to pouring hard-to-find boutique wines and serving rare cheeses with the perfect accompaniments from the interactive cheese gallery.
Chef Overton joined Montage Laguna Beach as a Studio cook in 2005. Studio is the resorts signature fine dining restaurant highlighting modern French cuisine with California influences. Through his passion and dedication he was promoted to sous chef in 2007 where he worked under former Executive Chef James Boyce and most recently with Executive Chef Craig Strong. Prior to joining Montage, Chef Overton completed his apprenticeship at Aubergine in Newport Beach, Calif.
“I am passionate about providing guests dishes highlighting wonderful ingredients prepared simply. I focus on 3-4 ingredients in a dish and prepare them perfectly,” says Overton.
“I was inspired to become a chef from an early age. My mother raised my brother and I on her own and worked long hours as a lawyer. I was always in the kitchen preparing meals for my family and loved creating dishes and seeing their reactions. My love for food led me to be passionate about sourcing wonderful ingredients and the best produce.”
Chef Overton enjoys spending time with his wife and three young boys. He currently resides in Anaheim Hills, Calif.