Chef Rachel Haggstrom grew up on her family’s citrus grove in Temecula, California, and became fascinated by the farming process–from planting seeds to harvesting–and because of it, developed a passion for food and cooking with fresh produce.
That passion has served Haggstrom well throughout her culinary career, including The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco, Wolfgang Puck’s Postrio at the Kimpton Hotel San Francisco, Thomas Keller’s Michelin three-star restaurant, The French Laundry in Napa, and St. Regis Monarch Beach.
Her stint at The French Laundry is where she developed her signature “farm-to-table” cooking style, which she has carried over to the Balboa Bay Resort in Newport Beach, where she was hired as Chef de Cuisine in October, 2013, and, as of June, 2015, executive chef at the luxurious Newport Beach resort.
“My goal is to serve flavorful and interesting food to match the incomparable views at the resort,” Haggstrom says.
The dedicated chef oversees the resort’s dining restaurants, which includes Waterline, the resort’s signature bayfront seafood restaurant, and A&O Kitchen+Bar, the resort’s waterfront gastropub. She also manages the day-to-day culinary operations, including special events, galas and weddings.
“Waterline provides a relaxed yet refined dining experience, with a seafood focus,” Haggstrom says. “The experience we aim to provide is fresh, light and contemporary, from the food to the ambience.”
The inventive chef is constantly creating new menu items, as well as changing menus with the seasons. Her latest contribution to Waterline is her Heirloom Carrots.
“I know it’s a seafood focused restaurant, but I wanted to highlight a vegetarian, farm-to- table dish,” Haggstrom says.
The carrots are grilled and seasoned with lemon oil, while the carrot ribbons are tossed in carrot vinaigrette and served with vadouyan yogurt and pickled mustard seeds. The dish can be either an appetizer or side dish. I can tell you from first-hand experience that it is over-the-top delicious! (see photo)
As to A&O, Haggstrom explains that it is a local, casual hangout featuring inspired gastropub fare with “real food” and “real drinks” served in an unpretentious way with a strong focus on shared plates, hearty dishes and creative cocktails.
“The food is meant to be shared,” she says, “in a comfortable, social environment. We want people to have fun at A&O and feel at home.”
Haggstrom says that one of the top sellers is the beer battered fries.
“People come for the fries, as well as the ribs with my homemade barbeque sauce,” she says.
Another popular item is what is called “Popcorn & Pig” on the menu. Haggstrom explains it is like Cracker Jacks, with popcorn, peanuts and caramel, bacon and sea salt.
Haggstrom is experiencing positive feedback from guests, not only for her restaurant offerings but also for the resort’s quarterly dinners–wine dinners for Waterline and beer dinners for A&O. Kudos abound for her coursed wine dinners with top-drawer wines in Waterline, which included Jordan, Grgich Hills and the Italian Fumanelli Winery in 2015. In 2016, the series will showcase iconic Napa Valley wineries, such as Silver Oak Winery, Twomey Cellars, Stag’s Leap, Far Niente, and Nickle and Nickle.
“The Balboa Bay Club members are particularly pleased,” she says. “I guess the real test is that the dinners are constantly sold out.”
Haggstrom recently hired Executive Sous Chef Matt Webb, whose responsibility is banquets and catering.
“We want to elevate the overall banquet experience through the food and presentation and do it in a fun and creative way,” she says.
When asked about her activities outside the kitchen, Haggstrom has this to say.
“It’s all about work and my 3 ½ -year-old daughter Olivia.”
However, she does have some goals–snowboarding and waterskiing.
Balboa Bay Resort Marketing Manager Kevin Gasparro is very complimentary of Haggstrom’s new tenure as executive chef.
“She’s done an awesome job and has really become a culinary star in Newport Beach and Orange County in general.”
Rachel Haggstrom’s stint at The French Laundry is where she developed her signature “farm-to-table cooking style, which she has carried over to the Balboa Bay Resort, where she is executive chef.