{ CHEF PROFILE }

ALEX EMERY

Tickled pink to be helming the kitchen at La Jolla’s “Pink Lady”

BY WENDY LEMLIN

Alex Emery, Executive Chef at La Valencia Hotel (a.k.a. “The Pink Lady”), is a rarity among his local peers—an actual San Diego native who has a long relationship with the culinary bounty of our region. Having begun his career as a dishwasher when he was 16, Emery worked his way up through the ranks at such San Diego icons as The Oceanaire Seafood Room and the Hilton San Diego Bayfront after graduating from The San Diego Culinary Institute. In his 12 years as a chef, he has earned respect for his creative prowess in the kitchen and steadfast management style in addition to being an enthusiastic and generous participant in local culinary events, charity dinners and showcases.

Greatest culinary influence?

I’d have to say influences, with an “s.” First would be my mom; second, Marc Ehrler, Corporate Chef, Americas for Hilton Worldwide, under whom I worked at the Hilton [San Diego] Bayfront; third, other chef friends and colleagues; and fourth, Mother Nature, as I am often inspired when I go on hikes or to the beach. Much of my cuisine is very plant- and nature-based.

Why did you become a chef?

It all started when I was a kid. My mom and I would watch Julia Child and Jacques Pépin on TV. Then as a teenager, I started working in kitchens, and I loved the energy, constantly moving, being creative. I was hooked and never wanted to do anything else.

Best thing about your job?

Exercising my creativity and expressing myself through my food. It’s like sending a private message to my customers: “This is me; please enjoy.”

Guilty-pleasure food?

Simple spaghetti and sauce with tons of parmesan!

What are you most proud of?

Mentoring young cooks, building my fantastic team and accomplishing so much in such a relatively short time.

Favorite fall and winter ingredients?

Warm spices, cranberries, squashes and gourds. Holiday foods that people enjoy together brings out the chef in me. I love making the classics creative but still preserving their essential integrity.

Your culinary style?

I’d call it very light, yet bold and hyper-seasonal. I feel blessed to be able to work with those ingredients that yield interesting fl avors. Having grown up here, I’m partial to seafood as well as plant-based dishes and fl avor notes from Mexico.

Your “bucket-list meal” to be prepared by any other chef?

Anything from René Redzepi, of Noma [in Copenhagen, Denmark].

Favorite things to do on your day off?

Hanging out at the beach, reading and, of course, spending time with people I’m close to.

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