Chef James Montejano

By Wendy Lemlin

James Montejano — At Home At La Valencia

From the time he first visited La Valencia Hotel, San Diego native James Montejano knew he wanted to someday be the Executive Chef at the iconic La Jolla hotel. His wish came true in spring of 2014, and now Chef James’ formidable skills are enticing diners at The Med and Café La Rue, and all catered events held at “The Pink Lady”.

Why did you become a chef?

Believe it or not, I had a good friend who went to culinary school, and as he and I were always engaged in “friendly competition,” six months later I enrolled in the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. Obviously, a life-changing decision!

Where else have you worked?

Aqua with Michael Mina, Pampelmousse in Solana Beach. Trader Vic’s and Hawthorne Lane, both in the Bay Area. Pacifica Del Mar and Le Papagayo in Encinitas. My first Executive Chef position was at Café Japengo in La Jolla, and I became the first corporate chef for the Brigantine group. I came to La Valencia from The Trident in Sausalito.

Your culinary philosophy?

Make it nice, or make it twice! The art of successful cooking doesn’t rely just on know-how, it’s all about passion and it comes from the heart. You have to cultivate and create a palate.

Favorites: 3 seasonings?
winter ingredients? cocktail or wine?

Saffron, curry, radish. Parsnip, cauliflower, lobster, beets, fennel, seafood, short ribs. Cocktail—vodka & cranberry. Wine—Albariño, from Spain.

If you could cook with any chef in the world,
whom would it be, and why? 

Jean-Louis Palladin, of Jean-Louis at the Watergate. He died in 2001, and I actually did cook with him once. He is the chef of chefs in my eyes and the reason why chefs are so well respected today.

Someone is cooking YOU dinner. What would it be?

Ha—that’s a good one! No one ever wants to cook for me—maybe they’re intimidated? But I would love anything someone else would prepare for me—even a grilled cheese sandwich and Campbell’s tomato soup!

What’s fun in your time off? 

Music runs through my veins, so I go to lots of concerts.  I actually love fashion shows, and am interested in photography. And of course the beach.

Anything to add?

Coming back to San Diego after five years in the Bay Area, I’m amazed at how much the culinary scene here has matured. Yes, it was hard to leave San Francisco, but now I find it so exciting to be here. I feel like I belong at La Valencia, and that I’m there to stay, that I’ve come home.