King of His Craft

At the age of 9, while most boys were being taught how to swing a baseball bat, Chris Simons was learning how to properly hold a butcher’s knife. “Being really young with something potentially dangerous, it was almost like a feeling of responsibility and adulthood, and I always appreciated and respected that lesson,” says Simons, who heads the kitchen at Andrea at The Resort at Pelican Hill®, an award-winning restaurant known for its classic Northern Italian creations.

Simons, who previously held the post of sous chef at Andrea, was promoted to the role of chef de cuisine in November of 2018. It’s a title he feels honored to hold, and he’s sharing his expertise in cutting-edge culinary techniques, as well as his deep knowledge of herbs, spices and high-end ingredients such as veal cheeks, monkfish liver and venison with restaurant staff. “It’s what keeps everything interesting and forward-thinking,” he notes.

This spring, he’s crafting a menu that spotlights seasonal ingredients from local farmers’ markets, including ones in Newport Beach and Irvine. There’s one dish, though, that guests can find year-round: the restaurant’s signature risotto, made with arborio rice, forest mushrooms and seasonal truffles, and finished tableside in a wheel of barrel-aged Parmesan cheese.

Simons began nurturing his love and respect for Italian food during those early years in the kitchen with family. “My mother is Italian, so we do a huge festa for Easter,” says Simons, an Orange County native. “I loved the idea of cooking delicious food for people, everyone laughing and happy, drinking wine and just enjoying themselves.” He recalls tackling the art of making meatballs as one of his first culinary lessons at home, “learning that they’re done when you can really smell the pecorino Romano and sizing them perfectly.”

During these large gatherings, Simons worked alongside his mother to prepare dishes like manicotti, ragu with braciole and lamb neck, and rapini — the smells of ricotta, mozzarella, lemon and parsley  filled the air of his family’s Yorba Linda home. Then, at 15 years old, Simons went to work at Costa Mesa’s Antonello Ristorante (pastry was his thing at that time). At 18, he moved to New York to attend culinary school. After graduating, he held posts in kitchens across the country, from New York to Washington and California.

He stepped away from the stoves briefly in 2016 to work on his father’s family farm outside of Seattle. It was during this hiatus that Simons rediscovered his calling. In the fall of 2017, he made his way back to Southern California to take on the role of sous chef for Andrea. “The resort is breathtaking, and I wanted to work again with Italian ingredients and food,” he says.

With Simons at the helm, diners have much to look forward to at Andrea. “I have dedicated my life to this,” Simons says. “And when guests eat my food, they will know it’s coming from somebody who cares deeply about their experience.”

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