The Playground is first and foremost, my dream. It is my love and passion. It’s something that I am so lucky to have at this age, at this point in my career. I know this, and I do not take it for granted. Make no mistake, my goal is for Playground to be the best restaurant it possibly can be. I have gathered a group of insanely talented young chefs, whom I expect to be the future of food in Orange County or wherever they choose to go. The menu at Playground is by no means all my influence. Each person on staff comes with an incredibly different expertise and is required to contribute to our recipes. Here is a little more about each of them:
Cooking isn’t something I have to do; it’s something I need to do. It’s the only creative outlet that uses all five senses. I’ve spent more than half of my life behind a stove. Because of this I have had the opportunity to work with some really great chefs in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Orange County. When I was just a teenager under the tutelage of Chef Andrew Sutton of Napa Rose I fell in love with the art of cooking. It was no longer just a job to me. So with my new found knowledge and passion I left for San Francisco to study at the California Culinary Academy. While attending school there I was able to work at notable restaurants such as Jardiniere, Gary Dankos and Aqua. Upon graduation I thought it necessary to return to my mentor at Napa Rose. When I was ready, I moved on to be the sous chef at Ambrosia Restaurant and ultimately the executive chef. I felt the need to gain more knowledge in another style of cuisine so I took on the executive chef position at AnQi by Crustacean. However, I still felt I wasn’t cooking to my potential or my style. So, my sous chef and I left to start the pop-up restaurant ‘Pri-vē in Hollywood with hopes to open our own restaurant. I met Jason while doing a series of pop ups in Orange County and I respected his passion and love for food. I knew I wanted to work with him and he offered to help make my dream restaurant come true. So here I am at Playground 2.0 excited for the future.
Like many young, ambitious chefs I ran off to culinary school. After graduating from the Cordon Bleu I started my career in a major culinary epicenter. The neon lights of Las Vegas caught my attention and soon I found myself behind a stove on the strip. I ultimately decided that my heart is set on the food and styles of Southern California: Fresh, seasonal, flavorful and influenced by the culinary traditions of the myriad cultures that make up this unique place. I left the desert for Orange County and cooked in Orange for a year before opening the Vizzi truck in Los Angeles, a gourmet food truck featuring fresh and seasonal ingredients. I moved from the food truck life to one of Southern California’s premier California modern restaurants, George’s at the Cove in La Jolla. My time at George’s reinforced my commitment to honoring the seasonal bounty of California and has caused me to think locally when picking out food for the day, and to reflecting on the seasons. The Playground’s commitment to these principles is part of what made me want to join Jason’s team.
My passion for food and the feast began at a very early age. The buffet tables at our large Filipino family gatherings were what I looked forward to, and recall the most. Since those early days, my path has taken me to so many amazing places including The Art Institute where I attended culinary school and my life as a cook began. My love for pastry started at Osteria Mozza while working under James Beard nominee Pastry Chef Dahlia Narvaez and I haven’t looked back since. In my career I’ve been very fortunate to have studied under and worked for some of the most notable and inspirational chefs and pastry chefs in LA and Orange County. I am thrilled, grateful and humbled to be working alongside Chef Jason, the exceptional culinary team at Playground (or my “brother bears” as I like to call them) and the Quinn family. In my free time you’ll find me hanging out with my man-friend Sean and our boxer Bull, singing classic rock and Motown tunes or shopping for headbands. Thank you to everyone who dines with us for allowing me to express myself and do what I love for a living! I can’t wait to feed all of you!!!
I am a son of a carpenter and extraordinary cook. Hard work and cooking is in my blood. I cooked for great chefs in Los Angeles and San Francisco before moving to New Orleans. There I found my identity in Haute Creole cuisine during my time at Commanders Palace. From there I moved on to be Executive Sous Chef at Paleta in Los Angeles and was Sous Chef at Churchill in Los Angeles before finding a permanent home at Playground. I’m extremely grateful to be surrounded by very talented young chefs. My goal is to cook with “soul” and provide our customers with the best possible food every time a plate hits the table. You are only as good as your last plate.
When I first started college I never thought I would be a chef. I grew up in Orange County with a family heavily involved in the booming tech industry. Following in the family’s footsteps I attended Chapman University in Orange for computer science. I spent my first few years after college doing programming and development in California and New York and quickly found myself in a spot where I realized I had started a career I was not passionate about. So I returned to California with plans to start fresh by doing something that I had always loved, cooking. I spent much of my free time while working as a programmer cooking for the people I loved and studying the nuances of physics, chemistry, and biology involved with cooking. I had never worked in a professional kitchen and the prospect was at first intimidating. Upon my arrival back in California I took a position as a dishwasher at a restaurant in Irvine just to get my foot in the door. Within a few months I was doing prep work, pastry, and managing cheese and charcuterie. While I knew this was a step in the right direction I made the decision to return to school to build a new foundation in cooking. I attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York and graduated with honors. I spent time in Yountville, CA working for the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group at Ad Hoc where I gained a wealth of knowledge on fresh local produce, menu development, kitchen management, and developed a love for wine and its synergy with food. I am thrilled to be working with Jason and the other talented chefs at The Playground not only because of their dedication to delicious food, but also because of the wealth of experience within the walls of the restaurant. My ultimate satisfaction from my work comes from providing the best and most memorable experience possible to you, the guest.
After falling in love with craft beer on my travels across the country, I spent two years working for one of the best new breweries to open in years, The Bruery, in Placentia, CA. I spent my time at The Bruery learning about how inventive and expressive beer can be. I advanced to become the Staff Manager at The Bruery Provisions, a bottle and cheese shop in Old Town Orange, where I further delved into the beer culture, augmenting my knowledge of beer with a new found love for food. I worked on beer and cheese pairings, beer and dessert pairings, and even crafted specialty sandwiches to pair with The Bruery’s beer. When Jason shared his vision for a new restaurant back in 2011, I became employee no. 1 at The Playground and set to work building one of the premiere beer bars in Orange County. I keep our 15 taps rotating with California craft brews and a bottle list 60+ bottles deep with some of my favorite craft beers from around the world covering a broad range of styles. I am a certified cicerone and level-one sommelier.
Rhett is a level-two sommelier who is helping us build a strong wine program. He is also thehost of 2.0, our new 17-seat restaurant culinary theater. We’ll get a more complete bio up soon.