As a SoCal native, it’s no surprise Marc Johnson was tapped to head the kitchen at the California contemporary Oak Grill. As executive chef of the Island Hotel’s signature restaurant and its sister venue, Aqua Lounge, Johnson masterfully crafts seasonal menus using a combined knowledge of Orange County palates and culinary training from Le Cordon Bleu Pasadena.
“Clean and focused,” is how he describes his style, developed from working at Studio at Montage Laguna Beach under the tutelage of chef James Boyce. Following stints at Mastro’s Ocean Club and Cotton Row in Huntsville, Ala. (again under Boyce), Johnson arrived to help open Oak Grill and Aqua Lounge in 2014.
This year, the Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival is moving its launch party to Oak Grill and Aqua Lounge, where Johnson will entertain taste buds with his innovative cuisine that places an emphasis on fresh, unexpected flavors. He’s also part of the Saturday, Oct. 2 lineup in the Grand Tasting Pavilion, where he’ll be serving foie gras with pickled kumquats and bliss maple syrup—and, if his beautifully plated entrees at Oak Grill are any indication, the bite-sized dishes at the festival will only have attendees wishing for more.
FIVE QUESTIONS WITH MARC JOHNSON
Most embarrassing cooking moment?
My first night on the line: my only job was to garnish plates with chopped parsley I couldn’t keep up—I was running in circles. By the end of the night I found parsley in my ears and down my jacket.
Favorite restaurant in Newport?
What would you eat for your last meal?
Number 19 at Langer’s Delicatessen
First thought that comes to mind when you hear “TV cooking shows”?
Why I’m not on one
What did you make for dinner last night?
690 Newport Center Dr.
NEWPORT BEACH WINE & FOOD FESTIVAL
—Written by Allison Hata
Newport Beach Magazine is a sponsor of the 2015 Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival.