By Katherine Duncan
Driftwood Kitchen might be known for its California coastal vibe, but executive chef and partner Rainer Schwarz brings years of international fine-dining experience to the Laguna Beach restaurant. Born in Austria, Schwarz began his culinary training at the age of 15 with an apprenticeship at a converted castle before traveling to Switzerland, Germany and France to work in various five-star hotels and restaurants. He met his mentor, chef Joachim Splichal, in Switzerland, and initially came to the States to join Splichal at an eatery in California.
At Driftwood Kitchen, Schwarz takes advantage of the oceanfront location and emphasizes fresh seafood, along with steaks and artisan cocktails. The chef describes his cooking style as “simple, honest cuisine with great seasonal ingredients.” This is apparent in the restaurant’s ever-evolving menu, with new dishes debuting regularly.
He will showcase three diverse items at the Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival’s Saturday Grand Tasting Pavilion: kuro kanpachi with Santa Barbara uni, strawberry tres leches and a Kentucky Sunrise cocktail created by Dave Anderson.
FIVE QUESTIONS WITH RAINER SCHWARZ
What’s the first dish you remember cooking?
A potato-mint gnocchi with homemade ricotta cheese. As a small boy, I remember my mom making them for me all the time.
What is your current favorite ingredient to work with?
Stone fruits—they’re the best in the summer. We use them in many dishes, ranging from our chicken dish to our cheese boards, and several others too.
Biggest kitchen pet peeve?
Make sure to taste your food before you serve it! The best looking, most beautiful dish is worthless if it’s not tasty.
Name one famous figure you’d most like to cook for?
Julia Child. I had the pleasure working with her on a few occasions. Simply stated, she was a great person—very gracious, fun and an icon who I will always look up to.
If you could only eat one dish for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Uni. But that’s probably not the best idea I’ve had!
619 Sleepy Hollow Ln., Laguna Beach
NEWPORT BEACH WINE & FOOD FESTIVAL
Newport Beach Magazine is a sponsor of the 2015 Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival.