Surrounded by fresh seafood, locally grown produce and plenty of sunshine, Nelson’s Chef de Cuisine Mona Guerrero’s culinary creativity radiates throughout the menu and atmosphere of the restaurant at Terranea. Just in time for summer, the California coastal menu features a variety of offerings from classic to comfort with a twist that nods to her heritage and hometown of San Pedro. Mona’s easygoing spirit, contagious laugh and inventive dishes reflect the vibrant and welcoming feel of the popular clifftop eatery. Part of a world-class culinary team at Terranea, the California native continually draws on her heritage and coastal influences she grew up with in her neighboring hometown. Her radiating warmth is balanced by a fierce determination and strong sense of pride for her native roots.
Q: Nelson’s is one of the most popular destinations for locals and guests alike. What is your philosophy behind the menu and offerings that keep people returning again and again?
A: You have to have passion and a love for what you are cooking. For me, Nelson’s is home. The cuisine, the ingredients, the surroundings are all infused with my love of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. The Cioppino and the Mahi Sandwich both offer a true taste of San Pedro featuring fresh seafood and packed with flavor. The nostalgic smells and tastes remind me of growing up, eating family style at Sunday barbeques and dinners. I believe food should be fun and offer a sense of familiarity – something you enjoy with loved ones.
Q: Where can we find you when you are outside of the kitchen?
A: When I am not in the kitchen or garden, I like to spend time with my friends and family. I love to entertain and create new dishes. Travelling is something I am very passionate about. I love exploring new cuisine and new places. I also love music, which fuels my creativity whenever I am in the kitchen, and I enjoy catching a live concert any chance I get.
Q: You spent 10+ years working in notable restaurants and high-profile resorts in Las Vegas before returning to Southern California, how does your background lend itself to your current role with Terranea?
A: My background and experience working in the Las Vegas market was instrumental in setting me up for success at Nelson’s. Nelson’s is one of the busiest dining destinations at Terranea. It could be a daunting task for some to work within a high pressure environment but for me it is normal, familiar and I love the energy. I would be remiss if I did not mention that I am surrounded with a great team that is just as passionate and enthusiastic about delivering the best that Nelson’s has to offer.
Q: As a female chef, what inspires you and continues to drive your success? What advice would you give to aspiring female chefs?
A: I am inspired by the chefs around me and the family feeling that we are fortunate to experience at Terranea. I am privileged to work with many female counterparts throughout all areas of the kitchen and the resort. The talented team that surrounds me is endless inspiration and above all, the beautiful location we call home. As it relates to advice to aspiring chefs, I would suggest that they stay the course and follow their heart. Be a part of or create environments where the energy is positive, collaborative and fun. For me, I tend to use music as my generator and the lyrics from What a Feelin’ by Irene Cara -“Take your passion and make it happen,” always gets me going!
Q: What sets Nelson’s apart as a dining destination?
A: The setting, the food, the drinks, our team – gosh, I can go on. One of my favorite things about Nelson’s is the coastal setting and a welcoming menu that offers a wide range of specialties, all created with love and passion. We are the best spot for a sunset dinner, enjoying live music during our summer concert series, watching for whale and dolphins, having a drink with friends around the fire pit, or grabbing lunch after a round of golf.
‘Freedom Foods’: Recipes from Chef Mona
24 qt. fish stock
4 tablespoons olive oil
6 garlic cloves
2 large white onion, julienne
1 fennel bulb, julienne
2 bay leaf
3 tablespoon fennel seed, toasted
1 tablespoon oregano
¼ cup tomato paste
2 large cans (15 ½ oz.) maziano tomato
1 ½ cup white wine
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
Salt to taste
Heat up tilt skillet, add olive oil. When hot, add garlic and stir for 1 minute.
Add onions and fennel, & a pinch of salt. Let vegetables cook down, about 10 mins till wilted.
Add tomato paste, fennel seed and bay leaf, stir. Let it get darker in color.
Deglaze with white wine, add fish stock, tomatoes, bring to a boil and let liquid reduce by half. Reduce heat to simmer, cover and simmer 30 minutes. Adjust with salt.
GRILLED MAHI MAHI SANDWICH
1 hoagie roll or soft sandwich roll
5 oz. Mahi Mahi
2 tablespoons herb aioli (See recipe below)
½ cup shredded iceberg
2 slices roma tomato
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon butter
6 rings red onion, thinly sliced
Season mahi mahi with salt and pepper.
Heat medium saute skillet and add olive oil. Let skillet get hot and add mahi mahi. Cook 3-4 minutes on each side, depending on thickness of fish. When fish is done, transfer to plate and set aside.
In medium saute skillet, melt butter and toast hoagie roll till toasted.
Spread herb aioli on both sides of toasted hoagie roll. Top with shredded lettuce, sliced tomato, mahi mahi and thinly sliced red onions. Finish with the top bun of hoagie roll.
1 cup mayonnaise
1 each shallot, minced
2 tablespoons capers, rough chopped
1 whole lemon, juiced and zested
1/2 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 bunch fresh dill, chopped
1/2 bunch fresh tarragon, chopped
Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl till well combined. Taste for proper seasoning.
A guest favorite for casual dining, Nelson’s is perched directly above the ocean coves made famous by the 1950s television series Sea Hunt–from which this modern surf shack takes its namesake. The cliff-top eatery pays homage to Sea Hunt’s main character Mike Nelson, as well as actor Lloyd Bridges’ lifetime efforts to protect the environment and the ocean. Indoor furnishings are made from recycled materials, including Nelson’s centerpiece bar countertop, which is fashioned completely of recycled wine bottles. Guests enjoy coastal cuisine and a warm, friendly bar atmosphere surrounded by outdoor fire pits and unrivaled sunset views.