WHEN YOU COME FROM AN ITALIAN FAMILY and grew up cooking with your grandma, it’s no surprise that you would decide being a chef was your destined career path. “I knew I wanted to be a chef from high school on, even though it wasn’t trendy back then to be one,” says Chef Larry Monaco, reminiscing about his youth. After attending the California School of Culinary Arts in Pasadena, the Los Angeles native spent time working in restaurants and hotels around the country, from New York to Seattle, then back to Los Angeles. After stints at some of the most high-end hotels on L.A.’s Westside—Hotel Erwin, The Huntley and Hotel MdR—Monaco is settled at Cast Restaurant at the Viceroy Hotel in Santa Monica, CA, right down the block from the famed Santa Monica Pier and Third Street Promenade.
Although a large part of Monaco’s career has been at hotel restaurants, he is adamant about changing the perception of hotel food: “Just because you’re dining at a hotel doesn’t mean your chicken has to be dry and rubbery! Hotel food always gets a bad stigma, but there’s no difference between hotel food and restaurant food. It’s all the same techniques.” Monaco works hard to combat that stereotype, with 80 percent of produce the restaurant uses coming from the nearby Santa Monica farmer’s market and working with the Monterey Bay Aquarium seafood watch list to only purchase sustainable seafood. Monaco’s cooking philosophy can be boiled down to this: “Make it look nice, and make it taste good.” The Cast menu changes every six weeks, depending on what’s fresh and in season. On the menu right now is a Stone Valley Farms roasted bone-in pork with Napa cabbage, red onion salsa and peanut coconut pesto; Skuna Bay wild salmon with three lentils and pickled shallots; and Monaco’s grandma’s family Bolognese recipe, with tagliatelle, sausage, short rib, ham hock and veal bone marrow. “We’ll be switching the menu shortly,” Monaco adds. “I’m thinking something like sautéed rainbow chard with pancetta and pickled stems.” A recent trip to New Orleans has inspired Monaco to start experimenting with Creole cuisine like red snapper and Cajun spices. “I also want to start sous-viding things more, since I already pickle a lot with my Cryovac. I want to keep up with trends, but I don’t ever want it to be trendy. I prefer simple and elegant.”