Hooked Up 3

Newport Beach Marriott chef Andy Ardnt celebrates 
sustainable cooking at Hook and Spear

Chef Andy Ardnt began overseeing the kitchens at Newport Beach Marriott Hotel & Spa two years ago.

“Back then we started implementing a few changes, but now we’re concentrating on a fully sustainable menu focusing on seafood,” Ardnt says.

This is exciting news for Ardnt and his team. In January 2017, the hotel’s flagship restaurant reopened as Hook and Spear. The staid menu transformed from boring Caesar salads and predictable burgers to more inventive and inspired food.

“We started working with Seafood Watch and the Monterey Bay Aquarium,” says Ardnt. “There’s a general unawareness in the public. We all should learn how our food is fished.”

Ardnt’s passion for cooking with seasonable ingredients and freshly caught seafood go back to his culinary roots.

The fast-talking chef was brought up in the old French culinary tradition. Like other great chefs before him, Ardnt’s career in the kitchen started young. At the age of 14, he found himself washing dishes at a small restaurant in San Diego County. He may have started in the suds, but his curiosity eventually led him to the stovetop. Within months, Ardnt was cooking on the line. He learned the basics and simultaneously ignited a passion within himself.

Eager to learn more, Ardnt enrolled in the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. Upon graduating, he spent several years soaking in knowledge from acclaimed San Francisco chef Nancy Oakes, a champion for sustainable cooking. He continued learning under the tutelage of Yoshi Kojima at the now shuttered Mc2 restaurant, where Ardnt honed his palate for French-California style flecked with Japanese influences.

The chef’s thirst for knowledge and innate curiosity eventually led him to New York. There, he thrived under the tutelage of “Top Chef” judge Tom Colicchio at Gramercy Tavern. These formative experiences heavily influenced Ardnt’s style as a chef. When he returned to the West Coast, the Southern California native knew that taking the reigns was his next step.

At Hook and Spear, Ardnt finds himself excited about what lies ahead. His new sustainable menu has him constantly thinking, learning and exploring. Ardnt ventured up to the famed Santa Monica Farmers Market to meet purveyors and taste ripe produce. He befriended a few farmers. Now, one of the farmers brings the restaurant greens and lettuces handpicked in the morning. The ingredients truly influenced his food.

“I’m most excited about the Kauai shrimp with octopus, green papaya and red ponzu sauce. The shrimp are marinated and grilled with a punch of umami, spiced with a dash of Togarashi,” says Ardnt.

Another hearty dish is the bone-in pork belly with Szechuan spices. It’s garnished with a Thai-inspired larb salad with fragrant lemongrass, cilantro and sweet, tangy chilies.

“The menu will frequently change,” says Ardnt. “It just depends on what we can get that’s sustainable and in-season.”

This keeps the seasoned chef on his toes.

“We might have to change the menu every two weeks,” he says.

For the spring, the chef is excited about perfecting his crudos. He also started researching sustainable menus for banquets and larger gatherings. Ardnt continues to sample and experiment with new ingredients.

“I was just tasting a few types of kumquats, picking up on their different levels of sweetness. Then there were these sweet cherries…I’m just figuring where they work on the menu. It’s an exciting time. We’re just on the cusp,” he says. “It’s really coming together.”