Chef James Montejano Out At La Valencia Hotel | "People's Chef" To Helm Kitchen At Cardiff Seaside Market

April 25, 2016

It's been almost 2 years since Chef James Montejano has taken over the culinary operations at La Valencia Hotel in La Jolla. The self proclaimed "People's Chef" is leaving La Jolla and moving northward to take over the Executive Chef role at the upscale Cardiff Seaside Market, which is in the process of an extensive expansion that includes a second story kitchen and event space.

Montejano intends to reimagine the market’s ready-made food section for health-conscious eaters, adding plant-based, paleo and gluten-free offerings, and will establish Cardiff Seaside Market as a gourmet educational and event center via farm-to-table dinners, wine tastings, private parties and cooking classes in a new mezzanine kitchen - part of a recent 13,000-square-foot expansion. Montejano will also develop an outdoor barbecue kitchen and dining area offering carved meats including the market’s signature “Cardiff Crack” tri-tip. Montejano will also develop new offsite catering menus and oversee menu changes at Cardiff Seaside Market’s Petco Park outpost.

Chef James at the new kitchen & event space in Cardiff Seaside Market
“I was born and raised in San Diego and lived in Cardiff for eight years so this feels like a homecoming. Seaside Market has always been a cut above,” said Montejano. “A movement toward health consciousness coupled with increasing interest in gourmet and high-quality cuisine drove me to make this transition from restaurant to market. I can’t wait to redefine the concept of the neighborhood grocery store by bringing innovative, restaurant quality food to consumers.”

After graduating from the California Culinary Academy, San Diego native Chef James Montejano started working at Aqua in San Francisco where he trained under renowned chef restaurateurs George Morrone and Michael Mina, and was promoted to sous chef within just two years. He then worked with Jeffrey Strauss at Pampelmousse in Solana Beach. His first Executive Chef position was in La Jolla at Cafe Japengo. After winning two consecutive annual awards for Best Sushi from the California Restaurant Association, Chef James decided to widen his horizons.

Over the next few years, Chef James headed a casino steakhouse in Valley View, launched Jade Restaurant in downtown San Diego, and introduced a sustainable, organic, farm-to-table menu at La Papagayo in Leucadia. He then seized an opportunity to return northward to work with Michael Mina again as part of the reopening team of his Michelin Star Restaurant in San Francisco. Before taking over the kitchen at La Valencia, Chef James worked at The Trident in Sausalito.

“We live in an exciting era when chefs are no longer stuck inside restaurants but can interact with the community in meaningful ways,” adds Montejano, who is passionate about engaging the community, where has built a reputation for supporting local suppliers, events, musicians and taste-makers.

Montejano’s accolades include People’s Choice and Best Seafood at the 2014 San Diego Bay Wine and Food Festival, and in 2015 he was voted Best of the Best Dining at Battle of the Bands as well as March of Dimes’ Best of the Fest. Montejano most recently competed at the 2015 KAABOO Rock’ Chef Competition and is an active participant in and contributor to the Berry Good Foundation, Chef Showdown for The Center for Community Solutions, Chef Celebration of San Diego, The Francis Parker School, the San Diego Food Bank and more

“Chef James will help the market realize our long-held vision to solidify our role in the community as a gourmet food supplier that celebrates loyal patrons and local products,” said John Najjar, who co-owns Cardiff Seaside Market with Pete Najjar. “Cardiff Seaside Market has been a leader in providing outstanding products and customer service since 1985. Our family-owned market has maintained its commitment to the community by continually expecting the next level of excellence in every department. Chef James is a natural step toward reaching the next level.”

Since 1985, Cardiff Seaside Market has been offering superior products and service at its family-owned and operated market, twice rated the number one gourmet grocery in San Diego. Featuring a selection of local and artisan products, including the cult favorite “Cardiff Crack” tri-tip, Cardiff Seaside Market is dedicated to being an active member of its community through supporting local producers and purveyors as well as numerous charitable causes. 

Cardiff Seaside Market is located at 2087 San Elijo Ave, Cardiff, CA , and online at