15 Questions With Zimzala's New Executive Chef Brian Drosenos

Zimzala Executive  Chef Brian Drosenos (Photo courtesy of Zimzala)

Cozy outdoor seating, a view of the Pacific, and Huntington Beach's most charming hotel as its home aren't the only perks Zimzala Restaurant & Bar has to offer. Lauded as one of Orange County's top 10 restaurants, the seaside eatery along The Strand now boasts a new executive chef—one with more than 13 years of professional culinary exposure. Chef Brian Drosenos rolled up his sleeves at Zimzala's helm in late 2014, crafting an approachable, fresh menu inspired by the prevailing farm-to-table movement. New bites aside, the Ohio native and current Santa Monica resident is also serving up something special during the month of January for our readers.

Drosenos' career has landed him at various spots along the California coastline, from The Ventana Inn and Spa in Big Sur to the Santa Cruz Dream Inn to The Portofino Hotel Yacht Club in Redondo Beach. Backed by a degree from the Florida Culinary Institute, Drosenos' vision for HB centers on affordable, ever-changing, seasonal California fare. Having recently celebrated its five-year anniversary, Zimzala offers breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, dessert, and happy hour bites, along with a reworked and sophisticated specialty cocktail menu. It's family-friendly, dog-friendly, and music-friendly, hosting weekly live jams and one of the best outdoor dining experiences in town.

Through January 31, diners who mention this story will be thanked with a complimentary dessert (with the purchase of an entree). 

We caught up with Drosenos in the kitchen to uncover a little about more about the man beneath the white chef jacket.

Red Kuri Squash Agnolotti (Photo collage courtesy of Zimzala)

Main & PCH: At what moment in your life did you realize you wanted to be a chef when you grew up?

Executive Chef Brian Drosenos: I have always loved food since I can remember, but I never thought I would make this a career until I started working in restaurants as a teenager. 

How would you describe your culinary style?

I believe simplicity is key. I like to highlight a few ingredients and then come up with a creative way to present them.

Why did you decide to take over the kitchen at Zimzala?

This is my third property with the company, so I love the culture within it. But Zimzala is a beautiful property in an amazing part of the country, the staff is fantastic, and the laid-back feeling of working by the beach can't be beat.

What do you love about Huntington Beach, aside from the weather and waves?

The laid-back mentality of the people. It's easier to just enjoy life here.

What inspired your new menu?

We are simply cooking within the season. We have constant communication with our suppliers as to what is best at the time. Taking that information and making approachable California cuisine is what we do.

Which dish are you most proud of?

I think that our octopus dish [Paprika Charred Octopus with smoked potato, Kalamata olives, fried capers, and romesco sauce] is fantastic. The flavor profiles are great, and we have had a wonderful response to the dish.

What's your favorite spice?

Coriander seed.

Why should both locals and tourists alike be excited to try your new menu?

We offer a relaxed atmosphere that makes everyone feel like they are on vacation, even if they live across the street. The menu will be constantly evolving, so there will always be something new to try.

From where do you source your menu's produce, meat, and seafood?

We use Melissa's Produce to source California produce for us, and we work with Anderson Seafoods and Santa Monica Seafood to obtain sustainably caught seafood.

Which cooking words or phrases do you most overuse?

I love using lemon to finish dishes, so I tend to say "make it bright" more than anything else.

California Swordfish (Photo courtesy of Zimzala)

Who in the culinary world do you most admire?

I would say Marcus Samuelsson. He brings such a different cultural background to his food. He is able to combine flavors that most people don't even think of. 

If you could cook one dish for the rest of your life, what would it be?

It would probably be some sort of braised dish, like pot roast or short ribs.

What is your most treasured culinary possession?

My cast iron pan that I have at home. I use it all the time and love it!

What simple advice do you give others regarding food?

Keep it simple and let the ingredients shine.

Is there anything else you want readers to know about you?

When you come into the restaurant, I would love to meet you. Just ask to see me!

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