An alumnus of Arroyo Grande High School, Luna Red’s executive chef Shaun Behrens graduated first in his class from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, a program he chose “because of (the city’s) diversity and culture.”
After honing his skills at several area restaurants, Behrens headed for Portland and found “the turning point of my career” with a job at Higgins Restaurant.
The values at this esteemed restaurant revolve around sustainability and celebrating local food producers, and Behrens was able to further delve into that philosophy when he returned home to be executive chef at Robin’s Restaurant in Cambria.
In 2010, Behrens helped conceptualize and launch Luna Red, where his seasonal menus offer an international array of flavors that celebrate the bounty of the Central Coast.
Q: What is your favorite local/seasonal ingredient that you’re currently using in your menu?
A: For spring I love using beets! One of our local gems, beets are usually available year round, but they are sweeter and earthier in the spring. Beets are very versatile, from the beetroot on the menu, to the leafy tops in specials, to the juice at the bar. We obviously use beets in a variety of ways, and we use every inch of the vegetable at Luna Red.
Q: How are you currently using it?
A: Currently, we are shaving them raw as separate colors and laying them out for our beet carpaccio. Carpaccio is traditionally a raw sliced beef dish that is drizzled with lemon and olive oil and finished with capers. So we twist that into a vegetarian and more colorful version by using two or three different beet colors, shaved fennel, avocado, pickled onion and mustard.
Q: How does this dish represent your culinary style/background/philosophy?
A: This dish represents the philosophy of seasonality and the food movement, which I strongly believe in and support.
We shop five days a week from the local farms and farmers markets in the county that provide Luna Red with most of our fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts, so I try to incorporate those into every one of my dishes.
The beet carpaccio is just one of many dishes on my menu that applies that philosophy; the beets, fennel, onions, avocado, citrus and pea sprouts — they’re all from local farms.
I studied architecture for a bit before becoming a chef, so there is a little structure within my plate presentations too, which is always fun for me.
Q: How would home cooks approach beets in their own kitchens?
A: I always tell home cooks that they can just slice beets raw and use them on salads, or roast them in the oven at 350 degrees with allspice, clove, fennel seed, cinnamon, salt, pepper, a splash of water and a little dried chili for two to three hours, or until the skins slide off. You can even use the beet tops (greens) as a stir-fry leaf.
Q: What is your favorite dish to cook at home, and why?
A: I love one-pot cooking. These days I’ve been doing a lot of different curries and rice dishes.
I have a lot of different curry pastes in the refrigerator, so all I need to do is go to the farmers market for some vegetables, add it all together with some coconut milk, and I have a quick dinner.
Q: What is your favorite food-and-wine pairing?
A: Hands down — zinfandel with bacon-wrapped chorizo-stuffed dates.