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A serving of the American Dream

Executive Chef Ignacio Munoz worked his way up in the kitchen and found a passion for flavorful food

Posted: February 10, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: February 10, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Munoz prepares spicy Thai shrimp pasta in the kitchen at Salt Creek Grille. (Jonathan Pobre/The Signal)

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Ignacio Munoz, 35, earned his chef’s coat the old-fashioned way, by dedicated hard work and a life learning his craft.

Munoz, who goes by the nickname “Nacho,” was born in Tepatitlan, Jalisco, Mexico.

He became a United States citizen in 2004.

Munoz came from a large family and has 12 brothers and one sister.

He found his life’s work early, he always loved to cook.

“I used to help my mother in the kitchen whenever I could,’ he said. “Sometimes I would help her clean green beans or clean fruit, easy things.”

At age 11 he found himself helping his brother at his restaurant in Mexico.

“One of my brothers used to have a restaurant and I would help him as a dishwasher,” he said.

Munoz came to the United States in 1996 to work in a restaurant run by his brother.

“I was very lucky that I could come and work for an older brother,” he said. “He is the executive chef at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Hotel in Dana Point. He taught me a lot in the three years I worked for him.”

When it was time to earn his way on his own he found a job as a line cook and prep cook at Salt Creek Grille in Dana Point.

He only stayed at the Dana Point location for eight months.

He transferred to the Valencia Salt Creek Grille to work as a sous chef in 1999.

After the Valencia Salt Creek Grille executive chef left in 2004 Munoz donned the black jacket embroidered with the coveted words, “Ignacio, executive chef.”

“I came to the United States for more opportunities,” he said. “I was working at a restaurant in Mexico, but I wanted to learn different types of cuisines.”

Munoz is married to Emeria and lives in Brea. His wife works for the local school district. They are looking forward to having children.

However, Munoz’s large family gives him many nieces and nephews to enjoy.

Munoz learned the basic of a culinary education at school Mexico.

“The more important education I received was in the real kitchens,” he said. “That’s the real deal.”

Munoz said the most challenging aspect of his job isn’t in the kitchen, it’s been learning English.

“My first language is Spanish,” he said. “Learning English has been a challenge, but I think I’m doing OK.”

The cult of the celebrity chef has expanded via popular television shows like “Top Chef,” on the Bravo network and “Chopped,” Iron Chef,” and “Chef Wanted” on the Food Network.

Munoz said he enjoys watching the cooking shows and thinks many of the shows reflect an accurate depiction of real restaurant kitchens.

“I love those shows, about half the shows are really real, but the other half, are bit over the top,” he said. “Overall they are very good.”

His favorite show is “Restaurant Impossible,” on the Food Network.

In each episode, celebrity chef Robert Irvine is given the “mission” of making the impossible possible by renovating a failing restaurant in two days on a $10,000 budget.

His other favorite shows include the Food Network cooking competition shows “Iron Chef” and “Top Chef.”

Munoz said he also enjoys watching “Chopped,” where chefs are challenged by creating dishes from challenging ingredients.

Munoz said he enjoys watching the television cooking shows when he has time because he can learn from the television chefs.

“I like to watch them make food you normally don’t see in a restaurant,” he said. “They come out with very interesting things. I love those shows.”

Munoz said his food philosophy is to make food “delicious.”

“I believe that you can make food delicious by using special touches and a lot of creativity,” he said.

Munoz has created many dishes for the Salt Creek Grille menu which rotates new items into the menu on a seasonal basis.

His favorite creation is chicken roulade.

“I like Italian food,” he said.

Munoz said he often cooks at home for special occasions and family get togethers.

“Normally my wife cooks for me, but when we get the whole family together — her family and my family — she asks for my help and I like to help her,” he said. “We come out with some very good dinners.”

In his spare time Munoz likes to run with his dog, a husky.

“It helps me relax and be ready for the next day,” he said. He also likes to spend time with family.

Munoz said when he gets time he would like to return to culinary school to obtain a formal culinary education.

“It’s never too late to learn new things,” he said.

Munoz said he thinks the trend in food towards avant-garde techniques like molecular gastronomy is the future of food.

“You have to be open for new ideas in food,” he said. “I haven’t had experience with molecular gastronomy, but I like watching how they do these new techniques.”

Munoz said guests may want to experience those kinds of techniques.

“We have to be ready to offer that kind of food in the future,” he said.

Munoz said people like to try new things.

Among his own “foodie” adventures Munoz counts experiences with venison and duck.

Munoz said he enjoys experimenting with new food ideas.

“I like to come up with my ideas and combine them with fresh food,” he said. “Basically, I just love food; food is my passion.”

mbuttelman@signalscv.com

661-287-5590

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