Initially, when Casa Laguna’s Executive Chef Sarah Keenen told me she was raised by “militant hippies,” I thought we had a classic oxymoron in play.
As it turns out, Chef Sarah is all about the healthiest organic food you can find. Raised by both a grandmother and mother in the health food store business, Sarah learned how to cook well and early with the freshest ingredients from the family “monster garden.”
Now, as the Executive Chef of one of Laguna Beach’s premier B&B boutique hotels, Sarah works daily to incorporate her early childhood education into every menu item she creates. Casa Laguna turns out an impeccable breakfast menu for its 22-room occupants, and later provides innovative hors d’oeuvres and paired wines for the guests’ evening cocktail hour.
Sarah was not professionally trained in the business until she decided to attend Laguna Culinary Arts for chef training at the age of 44. To that point, she never thought of herself as much of a chef. Her family and friends, however, had a different opinion as she was constantly called upon to cook for big dinner parties, baby showers, family holidays and more.
“Even when I had my baby son, I immediately turned to making my own baby food, but it never occurred to me that I was any kind of an inventive cook – I just wanted him to grow up really strong, vibrant and healthy.”
Sarah began working at the Casa Laguna in 2011 as a Sous Chef when the Executive Chef there was creating a new menu with Italian Mediterranean stylings. It was simple, organic and beautifully textured with a variety of tastes, and she loved the creative collaboration.
A year later, Sarah had an opportunity to work at the Montage, and decided to undertake the kind of training that created cuisine amidst a pool of talented chefs who were accustomed to producing their meals, buffets and menus at high volume. A year later, Casa Laguna tracked her down to inquire to her interest in becoming their Executive Chef. She readily accepted and, over the last few months, has melded the existing menu into one more of her own with more of a French influence.
Guests at the exclusive resort enjoy Sarah’s delectable Chile Crepes, Short Rib Benedicts and “New Orleans Grits Your Way” as just a few of the many breakfast items available. The entrees can be easily customized for gluten-free, vegetarian or vegan palates as well.
For the evening cocktail hour, Sarah and her primary crew have already left the premises, so she’s worked to create menu items that are easy to heat, yet still full of memorable flavor. She’s become famous among the guests for her Sun Dried Tomato Goat Cheese, and she proffers variations every evening that may include Brazilian Cheese Bread, Mini Quiches, and Chocolate Covered Grape Truffles.
“The guests here at Casa Laguna are always so grateful,” she says. “They love that we have an open kitchen that allows them to actually poke their heads in and chat with us. It’s fun for us, too, because in many cases, the chefs and cooking staff are behind closes doors without any interaction. This set up makes the whole experience that much more personable, and I think it’s another help in bringing back so many of our repeat guests.”