Written by Susan Irby
Photos courtesy of Anne Watson and Sapphire Laguna
Chef Azmin Ghahreman celebrates 10 years of sparkling success at Sapphire Laguna Born in Iran and raised in Geneva, Switzerland, it is easy to understand how chef Azmin Ghahreman was drawn to what he defines as “global cuisine.” However, his very first job was actually in coastal engineering. But, “I quickly learned that engineering was not for me,” he shares. “I sought a coast of a different kind, the one found through food.”
While obtaining his degree in French cuisine from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, chef Ghahreman received some keen advice from one of his mentors: work for hotel groups that would allow him to travel, work hard and learn the backwards and forwards of running a restaurant. Here, the chef shares a few highlights from his culinary journey, which 10 years ago this February, led to the opening of his highly praised Sapphire Laguna restaurant.
After culinary school, did you heed the advice of your mentor?
I did! My first job was with the Las Vegas Hilton, where I learned to respect the code—the kitchen code, which is like a military code. And, I learned to respect quality versus quantity.
Having worked with major luxury hotel groups around the world, including Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Barcelona, Paris, and our own Monarch Beach, what element bonds all of these experiences together?
Spices. From saffron to cumin to cinnamon… I have a special affinity for spices that has become the essence of my global cuisine. Respecting the spices and not being afraid to use them in non-traditional ways elevates my cuisine.
Have you been surprised by the success of Sapphire Laguna?
The vision I had in opening my own restaurant has delivered above and beyond. What began as a restaurant and pantry has grown to touch so many lives through Sapphire at School, Sapphire at Catering; we now have a Corporate Dining Program and I have enjoyed partnering with Crystal Cruises. In the beginning, the volume was so unexpected. It is a dream come true and what is so special is that nearly 50-percent of my employees have been with me since day one.
You have such a rich and vast culinary history. What is one of your most memorable experiences?
I have cooked for Bill Clinton, the Kingdom of Malaysia, the Sultan of Brunei and the International Olympic Committee, but one of my most memorable dinners was for President George W. Bush at the St. Regis Monarch Beach in 2001. His team had me wait for him. They would not tell me anything that he wanted until the very last minute. One of the Secret Service came down and said the President would like Pork Fried Rice and he stood right next to me the entire time to monitor every ingredient, every step. If I went to the walk-in, he followed me, every step.
And, did the president like it?
Yes, very much so!
What are the special plans for Sapphire’s 10-year Anniversary celebration?
We will be highlighting some of the best and most popular dishes and cocktails throughout the last 10 years… dishes that celebrate the different world cuisines. And, we will have a few special surprises for our guests.
SAPPHIRE 1200 South Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, CA 92651 | 949.715.9888 ~ SapphireLLC.com