Apr./May 2012 California Bountiful magazine
Story by Trina Wood
Photos by Dave Anderson
Recipes from chef Peter Serantoni of Cha Cha's restaurant in Brea.
Chef Peter Serantoni
Raised in an Italian household in Sweden, Peter Serantoni had no exposure to Mexican food until he came to Newport Beach in his 20s. At the time, he was serving as executive chef of an upscale restaurant whose owners also happened to own the El Torito chain. They asked for Serantoni's assistance with menu concepts for a new Mexican food place.
"I go, 'There ain't no way I'm touching that stuff,'" laughed Serantoni, who trained at the prestigious Stockholm Hotel and Restaurant Academy and served as chef at several European fine-dining restaurants prior to immigrating. "Rice and beans? That's not my cup of tea. Where's the foie gras?"
But Serantoni finally relented and traveled through Mexico to learn more about its authentic flavors.
"I became really intrigued with Mexican cooking in general because what little I'd been exposed to was the usual nachos kind of a thing," he said. "I realized there was a lot more to it than that."
Serantoni eventually joined Chevy's Inc. and, as chief culinary officer and a senior vice president, created and launched several restaurant concepts.
About nine years ago, Serantoni stepped off the corporate ladder and back into the kitchen. At Cha Cha's in Brea, Serantoni and his staff focus on a menu rooted in traditional Latin technique and approach, with a dash of their own interpretation and the abundance of fresh ingredients found in California.
"Good food is not about dumping a boatload of expensive ingredients into it," he said. "It's about more of the understanding of how things work together."