Califonia Bountiful

'Organized chaos'

Mar./Apr. 2016 California Bountiful magazine

Challenges fuel chef's passion for food

More online: Recipes

San Luis Obispo chef Shaun Behrens, who uses local ingredients, says he likes to have fun with his food.

Shaun Behrens always liked to cook, but he didn't set out to be a chef. 

"Being part of a family of engineers, I wanted to be an architect," he said. "I just cooked to make money so I could go to school to be an architect."

Somewhere along the way, though, Behrens realized that his artistry was better suited to designing menus rather than buildings. So he quit college and applied to culinary school. Today, he is executive chef of Luna Red, a downtown San Luis Obispo restaurant that specializes in what Behrens calls "small plates of global flavors."

Luna Red's offerings are fresh and lively, with a touch of whimsy. In other words, don't expect regimented rows of beets in your salad.

"I teach my cooks to place (an ingredient) on the plate, and wherever it chooses to lie, that's where it wants to be. Don't fix it, don't make it symmetrical," Behrens explained. "I try to have a lot of fun with my food. I call it organized chaos."

Although he is playful when plating food, Behrens is strict about managing his kitchen. He buys ingredients from local purveyors whose philosophies align with his and ensures nothing goes to waste.

"Literally every cook on his station or her station has a little piece of tape that says, 'Where can I put this besides the trash?'" he said. For example, citrus peels and other fruit scraps flavor sangria or are preserved for use in vinaigrettes or as condiments. Trim from onions is ground into a puree for soups, vinaigrettes, salads, bases and marinades.

Behrens says he thrives on all the challenges that come with his job: "It fuels my passion."

Barbara Arciero


Roasted beet salad with herbed chevre, honeycomb and orange-beet reduction

Grilled lamb sirloin chops with charred Brussels sprouts and mint chimichurri

Morro Bay rockfish ceviche with scallions, tomatoes, jalapeño and cilantro

Black kale salad with toasted pistachio vinaigrette and Manchego cheese

Strawberry fields

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