Eat / For Chefs

Eco App Off Saturday, June 24, 4:00 pm

From across southern California, renowned chefs will set out to create the most delicious, sustainable, and crowd pleasing appetizers. Don’t miss this unique celebration of the local farmers, purveyors, fishermen, ranchers, and artisans committed to creating an ecological food future.

Eco App Off
Photo by Ryan Haack

3 hours




$110 for members


The Ecology Center
32701 Alipaz St
San Juan Capistrano, California 92675
Google Map


Tickets are non-refundable. The Ecology Center shall not be liable for full or partial non-utilization of tickets or loss of recreational or dining opportunities due to site constraints, capacity, weather or any circumstances beyond our control.

The event is outdoors in our courtyard, farm, and gardens, so we recommend casual clothing. Wear comfortable shoes and bring a sunhat and a light jacket or shawl.

We will be taking pictures and possibly video to use on our website, social and other educational media, and by registering for this workshop you agree to our photo/video release policy.

From all over Southern California, renowned chefs will arrive at The Ecology Center for an evening of friendly culinary competition to create the most delicious, sustainable, and crowd pleasing appetizer.

Chefs are challenged to source all ingredients for their appetizer from within 250 miles of The Ecology Center. With each bite and every sip, you’ll taste, smell, and see the power and joy of locally and sustainably sourced food.

The Eco App-Off is a celebration of farmers, purveyors, fishermen, ranchers, and artisans committed to creating an ecological food future. It brings together a growing community of people who care about their local food system and who believe the food they eat matters.

The Eco App-Off will take place at The Ecology Center, a historic property in San Juan Capistrano surrounded by rolling hills and the county’s only commercial certified organic farm. Chefs will serve their appetizers throughout our gardens. Local wine from One Hope and beer from Laguna Beach Beer Company will flow as live music by Devil’s Box plays.

By the end of the evening, you’ll have eaten and drank to your heart’s content, and after the votes are counted, everyone will come together to celebrate the best of the best.

Taste the difference. Join us for Eco App-Off 2017 at The Ecology Center.

Competing chefs

Dozens of leading chefs from throughout Southern California were nominated by the community and voted on by founding members of the Community Table Accord.We will continue to add to this list in the coming days, and will also share information on our featured Eco App-Off chefs. These are the chefs confirmed to date:

Holton Brit – The Cellar, San Clemente
Luiseen Gonzales and Katy Smith – Puesto, Irvine
Jason Mcleod – Ironside, San Diego
Blake Mellgren – Craft House, Dana Point
Brandon Nichols – Land and Water Co, Carlsbad
Pascal Olhats – Pascal’s, San Juan Capistrano
Juan Carlos Récamier – Ceviche House, San Diego
Photo Gallery
Chef Bios

Allan Aguinaga, Farmhouse at Roger’s Gardens

Chef Allan Aguinaga is an orange county native, born and raised in Santa Ana. At a young age Allan took interest in cooking with his grandmother when she would come to visit from Jalisco, Mexico. The bold flavors of Mexican cuisine spurred a fire in him at a young age which continued through high school and college.

After a fateful trip to South America in 2010, he found the inspiration to follow his dream of becoming a chef on the steps of Macchu Picchu, Peru. He immediately enrolled in the Culinary Art Institute of Orange County and graduated at the top of his class in 2012. He then began his true education in the restaurant industry as a cook with Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen under Executive Chef Darrin Finkel. He quickly learned every station and won Cook of the Year in 2012.

After learning everything he could, Chef Allan went on to work alongside Chef Daniel Hyatt, at one of Orange County’s premier restaurants Juliette Kitchen. There Chef Allan rose quickly under the tutelage of Chef Dan, making Sous Chef in eight months. He quickly learned how to manage his crew properly and uphold the high standards of Juliette Kitchen.

Always hungry to learn every aspect of the culinary industry, Chef Allan joined the ranks of True Food Kitchen, a Fox Restaurant concept as a sous chef in 2015. There he began to understand the Farm to Table concept and big production kitchens. Working at True Food, Chef Allan was able to pick the brain of one of Orange County’s pioneers in Farm to Table cooking, Chef Richard Mead.

Chef Rich (Sage, Sage on the Coast) was waiting for another challenge when he opened up Farmhouse, a Farm to Table restaurant, focusing on farm fresh ingredients.

Seizing an opportunity to learn under such an amazing chef, Chef Allan accepted the position of Chef de Cuisine alongside Chef Rich. In only half a year Farmhouse has skyrocketed to the top of Orange County Restaurants. Making both Brad Johnson’s top 15 restaurants in Orange County and “2nd hardest Table Reservation to get” in Orange Coast Magazine.

Chef Allan Aguinaga continues to grow alongside Chef Rich, absorbing all of his knowledge and continuing to feed his hunger.

Holton Britt, The Cellar

Chef Holton Britt is a true renaissance man. Only thirty-one years old, he has already mastered the arts of butchery and cheese mongering, started the garden at The Vine, flirted with sushi making, and is a Kendama expert. But the most fascinating thing about Holton is that he never attended culinary school. He taught himself everything he knows. A dishwasher at Laguna Culinary Arts, he eavesdropped on classes, expanding his knowledge and refining his skills as he worked. Now, working from The Cellar garden, Chef Holton has the creative freedom to construct dishes that inspire and delight our guests.

The love of food and excellent customer service is a lifelong Britt family affair. Inspired at a young age by his great grandmother, Holton volunteered at the Artisan Cheese Festival for five years. Later, alongside his dad, he established the thriving restaurant, Urban Garden. And now, Holton’s two-year-old son, Zayden, sporting his very own mini knife set, accompanies him in the Cellar kitchen.

Greg Daniels, Haven Gastropub

A Southern California native, Greg Daniels’ passion for cooking was sparked when he was just 15 and working at a fast food joint, where he fell in love with the camaraderie of a restaurant environment. Daniels subsequently enrolled in the Le Cordon Bleu program at the California School of Culinary Arts in Pasadena, CA, from which he graduated in 2005. Daniels’ culinary experience, which includes Napa Rose and Pascal, eventually landed him the position of executive chef at Haven Gastropub, where Daniels shines in his innovative take on American and European comfort food. He helped to make Haven Gastropub one of the most popular dining destinations in the area, and this led to the opening of a second location in Old Pasadena.

Most recently, Daniels has been noted for his involvement in the fight against the California Foie Gras ban. In addition to hosting and participating in numerous pro-Foie events and dinners, Daniels also lead a group of Southern California chefs to Sacramento to show their support of the delicacy.

Luisteen Gonzalez, Puesto

Executive Chef Luisteen Gonzalez is a native of Mexico City whose passion for food comes from his grandmother, who taught him to cook when he was just ten years old, and his father, a fisherman of over 25 years. At 14, Luisteen prepared his first dinner for a Quinceañera party in his hometown. This experience influenced him to follow his passion for food and home cooking and turn it into a culinary career in San Diego, which he has called home for the last 20 years. Chef Luisteen has elevated the taco to new heights with Puesto.

Katy Smith, Puesto

Born and raised in Irvine, Calif., Chef Katy Smith uncovered her love for the food industry while working in restaurants during college. Deciding to forge her passion into a career, Smith earned her advanced culinary arts degree from Baltimore International College while working as a cook at Michael Mina’s Wit & Wisdom at the Baltimore Four Seasons Hotel.

A jack of all kitchen trades, Smith has had a wide range of jobs within the culinary industry including, time in a 5-star hotel kitchen and owning and operating a personal chef business. Most recently, Smith served as the test kitchen director and culinary assistant to culinary legend Rick Bayless in Chicago.

While in Chicago, Smith received national recognition as the culinary director for the James Beard winning podcast The Feed and served as kitchen director for Bayless’ Emmy-nominated, Season 10 of PBS Mexico’s One Plate at a Time. Smith also oversaw recipe testing and developing for Bayless’ most recent cookbook, More Mexican Everyday.

Joel Harrington, Lido Bottle Works

Vermont-born Joel Harrington began his career at age 15, working as a fry cook in a family-owned restaurant in his home state. In 1998 he attended culinary school at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, where he was awarded the Craig Claiborne BPS Endowed Scholarship for outstanding performance. He was hired upon graduation as a line cook by acclaimed chef Marcus Samuelsson at Aquavit, becoming chef de partie, and later, sous chef. After leaving NYC, Harrington made a name for himself in Dallas, where he was awarded with a James Beard Nomination and AAA Five Diamonds. He led kitchens for Stephen Pyles and Charlie Palmer in Dallas before heading back to New York to become Director of Culinary at Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster in Harlem. He returned to Dallas again, plunging into the world of local ingredients and farming. Chef Joel recently returned to Orange County, where he cooked in earlier years (at the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel). He lives on the Newport Peninsula, biking to work daily after visiting the Dory Fishing Fleet Market or the Lido Bottle Works garden in Costa Mesa. His focus at LBW remains true to his overall ethos of sustainability and highlighting local producers.


Charles Imbelli, Harvest at The Ranch Laguna Beach

Charles Imbelli’s love affair with food began as a child growing up in the Bronx. And like all great love affairs, it’s grown even stronger over time, thanks to a continuous thirst for learning and the desire for new experiences and challenges.

The culinary journey of Imbelli, a 2014 Zagat New York “30 under 30” honoree, has included stops in the Pacific Northwest and California along with New York—where he got his start with an under-the-table apprenticeship when he was just 14.

Imbelli has since worked alongside some of the industry’s preeminent names, including David Waltuck at Chanterelle, Danny Meyer at Union Square Events and, most notably, Marcus Samuelsson and the Samuelsson Group in New York. There, he opened American Table at Alice Tully Hall and Uptown Brasserie at JFK Airport among other properties. He also headed recipe testing and standardization for the group and served as the sous chef for Red Rooster.

In 2013, looking for a new scene and a better quality of life, Imbelli came to California, where he helped lead Ace Hotel’s culinary operations at multiple properties before joining the launch of Venue 66, a full-service boutique event caterer in Los Angeles.

After becoming a father in 2016, Imbelli jumped at the opportunity to get out of the city and join The Ranch at Laguna Beach team as the Executive Chef at Harvest. “I’m thrilled to be leading the effort to launch Harvest,” he says, “and I’m excited to share our creative and intensely local take on seasonal comfort food.”

Chef Jason Mcleod, Ironside

With over 25 years of culinary experience under his toque, CH Projects Chef/Partner Jason McLeod has traveled the world to train with several of the most prestigious chefs in the industry, and in 2009 as the opening executive chef of RIA in Chicago’s Five-Star Elysian Hotel, McLeod led a luxurious seafood restaurant from being relatively unknown, to receiving two Michelin stars during its first year of operation—an honor that only two other restaurants in Chicago (Charlie Trotter’s and Avenues) were awarded that year.

Driven by entrepreneurship and a goal of opening his own unique collective of establishments, in 2011 Chef McLeod returned to a burgeoning restaurant scene in San Diego, CA where he began collaborating with the visionary (and sometimes controversial) restaurateurs-come-social engineering duo, Arsalun Tafazoli and Nathan Stanton of CH Projects. Alongside McLeod, CH has been recognized for their innovation in top tier publications such as Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, GQ, The New York Times, Imbibe, The Los Angeles Times and more. Chef McLeod has since gone on to host a dinner in the legendary James Beard House, participate as a featured chef in various food & wine festivals around the nation, as well as a Holland America Cruise sponsored by Food & Wine Magazine.

CH Projects: Born & Raised, Ironside Fish & Oyster, Soda & Swine, Craft & Commerce, UnderBelly, Neighborhood, Polite Provisions, False Idol, Noble Experiment, El Dorado

Chef Blake Mellgren, Craft House

Blake was born and raised in Orange County. His love for culinary arts began at a young age. In middle school, while his friends talked about what they did over the weekend, Blake described the meals he had prepared for his family. He began working in the restaurant business at age 16. His entrance into the industry began by working as a host and busboy at Mangia Bene in Laguna Niguel. He later started working at Savannah Steak and Chop House.

In July 2010, he began working in the kitchen at the famed Chez Melange in Redondo Beach. By the end of his first day, he realized that the restaurant industry was where he was meant to be. Under the tutelage of Chef Robert Bell, he quickly advanced. Over the two years in the Chez Melange kitchen, and following graduation from Loyola Marymount University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing, he rapidly excelled in Kitchen Management. With the valuable training he received under Chef Robert Bell, he packed up his knife roll and moved to New York, accepting a position as a line cook at The Modern, part of Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group. Determined to make the most out of his experience in New York, he enrolled at the International Culinary Center, and completed courses in Restaurant Management. These courses gave him deep insight of all aspects he would need to become a successful restaurateur. In February 2014, he moved back to Orange County to pursue his dream of opening a place of his own, and that is where Craft House was born.

Chef Brandon Nichols, Land & Water Co

San Diego native, graduated from The Art Institute of California San Diego in 2005 with a AA in culinary arts. Sous Chef under executive chef, Katie Grebow at Cafe Chloes, worked under chef /owner Carl Schroeder at Market Restaurant and Bar, ran both of the hot side kitchens at Harney Sushi. Head Chef of the Hot Side Kitchen at The Land and Water Company. I have a strong background in hyper seasonal local produce with an focus on California Cuisine. Built and opened The Land and Water Company in 2014 with Chef Rob Ruiz, Chef Keola Liu and Chef Jeromy Kuschel. I enjoy being a constant craftsman, creating new culinary experiences that touch people and evoke memories through food.

Chef Pascal Olhats, Pascal

Pascal Olhats is an extraordinary French-born, and trained Executive Chef, and restaurateur. He has won numerous awards, owning and collaborating on a number of restaurants in Newport Beach over the past 27 years. He currently owns four businesses, including: Café Jardin Restaurant & Pascal’s Tea Garden Creperie (on the lush grounds of Sherman Gardens & Library in Corona del Mar), Pascal’s Café in San Juan Capistrano (a café/ bakery/ fine dining establishment) , and Pascal’s Catering (offering full-service catering for 20 years throughout Southern California). Pascal also partners with Manassero Farms and orchestrates breakfasts, dinners, and incredible special events, often showcasing guest chefs.

Chef Juan Carlos Récamier, Ceviche House

Juan Carlos Récamier, originally from Mexico City, trained in Lansing, Michigan and Queretaro, Mexico. Opened Ceviche House in 2013 at local San Diego Farmers Markets. After a little over a year, he opened his first brick-and-mortar shop in North Park, San Diego. True to his beliefs, he has a strong connection with local fishermen and local farmers. He strives to keep his food simple and progressive, always preserving his Mexican cultural roots in his cuisine. Ceviche House will be expanding to a new location in the Old Town neighborhood of San Diego, with a main focus of serving only locally caught seafood with a modern Mexican influence.
Chef Gallery