Chef Rainer Schwarz was born in Austria, and began his culinary training there at age 15.  After his apprenticeship, he traveled widely—working in five-star hotels and restaurants in Switzerland, Germany, and France. While serving as Chef de Cuisine at the Grand National Hotel in Lucerne, Switzerland, he met Chef Joachim Splichal, who would later act as his mentor. He left Europe to work with Splichal at Highland Inn in Carmel, and later at the famed restaurants Patina and Pinot in Los Angeles.
Since moving to the United Sates, Schwarz has opened dining concepts in Colorado and Los Angeles—including Cienega, and Public Kitchen & Bar. After launching The Deck and Driftwood Kitchen as part of his Sentinel Development Group in 2014, the restaurants were immediately hailed for their commitment to local ingredients, inventive menus, and visually stunning dishes. In his year-end awards column, Orange County Register food critic Brad Johnson called Driftwood Kitchen the Best New Restaurant of the Year.
This week, while planning his spring/summer menu, Chef Schwarz spoke with us about his love for Laguna Beach, his philosophy on competition, and his favorite Laguna Beach secret.
Driftwood Kitchen view_Laguna Beach

I fell in love with Laguna for its beaches, weather, and locals—but I’ve discovered that the city also has an active nightlife. There are things going on and people are moving about. I used to live in Vail, but Colorado was just not ‘it’ for me. Lights out was at 9pm!

Driftwood Kitchen_Drink_Laguna Beach

When I’m not eating at my own restaurant, I like to go to Sushi Laguna. They have a super friendly staff and that’s a big part of the sushi experience. The sushi is great too—simple, straightforward, and fresh.

We have really strong restaurants in this town, led by great chefs. I love Broadway by Amar Santana—I think he’s quite talented. Ryan Adams of Three Seventy Common makes simple, smart, honest food; I really enjoy his takes on bone marrow and pork belly. Studio at Montage is unbelievable if you’re having that white tablecloth experience, and The Loft is also great for something more casual. The dining in town is rapidly improving. I’m not worried about competition—the more competition, the better it will be for everyone!

People in Laguna Beach are just as busy as people anywhere else, but they do a great job of finding time to take advantage of the weather, the beaches, the canyons, and (most of all) the ocean. Our whole team likes to go boogie boarding together between the lunch and dinner rushes. We take an hour, jump in the Pacific, and then get back to work. The sous chefs, the house managers, everyone is in the water! There’s such great surf right in front of us at Sleepy Hollow, it’d be a shame to never take advantage of it.

The Deck sunset_Laguna Beach

It’s a tight-knit community in Laguna, you feel like you’re a part of something. People know each other, they say ‘hi!’, they stop and chat. Tourists take notice and that sense of friendliness rubs off. Take a ride on the free trolley sometime and watch how open people are with one another—that’s what I love most about this town.

Every local knows this town, there are very few true ‘secrets’. People who live here typically adore the place—so they take time to explore its canyons, beaches, shops, and restaurants. Most of all, the locals know one another. Case in point: I went to Hawaii for vacation a month ago and the woman standing next to me in the taxi line was a Laguna Beach local. I’d never seen her before, she lives in Hawaii now, but she knew my whole kitchen staff, half of my servers, and a few of my managers.

Driftwood Dinner_Laguna Beach

Okay, fine…here’s my one real secret: the best cookies in town are at Zinc Café. They have a double fudge cookie that tastes like chocolate all way through. It’s the best cookie I’ve ever tasted. Their coffee is also great—I buy the beans and take them home so I can start my day with it every morning.

'My Laguna Beach' is a series of interviews in which some of the city's most prominent fans give us a virtual tour and share their Laguna Beach secrets. TWEET or INSTAGRAM your own Laguna faves to us @VisitLaguna with the hashtag #MYLAGUNABEACH.