Growing up near San Sebastián, a seaside town in the pastoral region of northern Spain, Chef Bernard Ibarra found himself profoundly connected to both the earth and the sea. When he arrived at Terranea for the first time six years ago, he was transported back to his homeland roots.
“I was driving along Palos Verdes Drive, and when I saw the ocean with all of the natural landscape, my past life in the Basque Country began to come back to me,” he shares. “Then when I turned onto Terranea Way and smelled the salt air, I thought to myself, ‘Wow, this feels like home.’”
Time spent playing and working in his family’s gardens, tagging along to coastal fish markets and helping his mother in the kitchen shaped Chef Bernard’s life and his culinary art philosophy. “I believe that the simplicity of my childhood and an understanding that everything is linked to nature has stayed with me throughout my life,” he says while grabbing a few herbs from the resort’s garden.
“Growing and harvesting produce during the four seasons was such a natural thing,” he continues. “We never wondered what we were going to eat because our food was directly connected to the time of year.”
The chef was especially fond of strawberry season as a boy. “When I picked strawberries with my sister we could not wait to eat them. I will always have those happy memories and sensations of my taste buds exploding when I tasted a strawberry that was perfectly ripe. Once you experience something special like that, it becomes a part of who you are.”
Beyond seafood and produce, other mainstays of the Ibarra family diet included eggs, chickens, rabbits, farm animals and wild fowl. “Whenever my family processed the birds and animals for us to eat, we did it with gratitude and we had dinners in their honor—especially at the end of the lifecycle for the chickens because they provided us with eggs for many years. We took this very seriously, and I do the same now with my son.”
As vice president of culinary experiences and executive chef, Bernard’s thoughtfully selected ingredients and menu creations at Terranea are greatly influenced by the rich culinary bounties that are synonymous with his native Basque Country—a region highly acclaimed for its abundance of quality seafood and agriculture farms. He fondly refers to his homeland as “one huge natural market.”
Chef Bernard remains creatively inspired by his daily communion with the natural world and his instincts. “I just follow what I see and flow with the seasons while my mind creates. Ingredients trigger creation, and ideas knock on my brain’s door.”
Those impulses extend to the resort’s culture. “I came here to be a chef, and Terranea was the water and the nutrients that I needed to grow. All of the programs that I was fortunate to start—the farm program, our chickens, the gardens, the bees, olive oil and kelp—came about through my excitement about returning to nature while collaborating with the other chefs.”
Terranea’s associates share Chef Bernard’s reverence for nature, and that synergy is a cornerstone of guest experiences at the resort. At Nelson’s, perched atop a cliff with the waves crashing below, chef de cuisine Michael Cruz—a native Californian—finds inspiration in the restaurant’s natural surroundings.
“The sense of freedom that we get looking at the ocean every day unleashes our creativity as a team,” he says. “We all take time out of our day to witness it, enjoy it and feel the same energy from the property, which is very satisfying. Being so close to the ocean is certainly reflected in our dishes.”
Chef Michael, like Chef Bernard, realized his professional calling through family. “I am Hispanic, and an important part of my heritage is big family gatherings and comforting people with food,” he explains. “My parents told me that when I was very young I would walk up to people and ask them if they were hungry. I was always in the kitchen cooking with my mom and other family members. I even have recipes from my Grandpa that are written on paper bags.”
Today Chef Michael brings his family-inspired concept of comfort food to Nelson’s while embracing Terranea’s commitment to local sourcing—including seafood, Terranea-harvested lemons, avocados and other fresh ingredients.
Andrew Vaughan, chef de cuisine at mar’sel, also shares an affinity for nature and sustainability with a deep-rooted passion for farm-to-table cooking that took hold during his childhood in New Orleans. He too spent memorable times in family gardens and kitchens alongside his mother and grandmother, which marked the defining beginnings of his career.
“Some of my best memories are of playing in my grandmother’s gardens with my younger sister and helping my mother in the kitchen as a child,” he recalls.
When his journey landed him at Terranea after relocating to the West Coast post-Hurricane Katrina, Chef Andrew’s art was still evolving. “Coming to California was amazing on its own,” he remembers. “Then Terranea transported me from the urban jungle that was my only perception of Los Angeles to this special oasis that immediately fostered a deeper connection with the environment and seasonal foods.”
He continues: “Being here has given me the opportunity to learn what the ocean and the land have to contribute to my story and our collective story. Having the ability to source directly from our produce trees and naturally grow ingredients, such as lavender and fennel, or maintain our seaside gardens, which all co-exist with the wild native plants, really influences what we put on a plate.”
Chef Andrew wears his appreciation for Terranea’s food philosophy—an extension of Chef Bernard’s vision—proudly on his sleeve. “I identify with Bernard’s passionate commitment and sensitivity to his craft,” he says. “He has taught us to embrace our space at Terranea and to honor it while uniquely expressing ourselves as chefs.”
Pondering the resort’s farm-to-table culture, Chef Andrew notes the word Terranea has roots in the Italian word for land, terra. “Understanding that connection is very important, even if initially foreign to me,” he shares. “Bernard raised that awareness by painting a picture of his past, his beliefs and his travels. I now can relate to that on a very deep level from my time learning and growing with him. Instead of just creating something new and different, our team approach is a platform for all of us to share what is naturally here with our guests.”