What do you get when you mix fine imported foods and locally grown produce, add a highly regarded chef, early California design, and set it all down in the Old Pottery Place?
You get Chef Azmin Ghahreman’s dream project, Sapphire Laguna.
Ghahreman, who left his last post as executive chef at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort & Spa to found Sapphire, opened the restaurant Feb. 21.
In less than a month’s time, weekend reservations are already filling up.
Ghahreman said his goal was to open a restaurant that served the best foods from around the world with local touches that make it a part of the community.
He serves international dishes cooked traditionally, but with personal recipe tweaks.
“I cook with respect to the ingredients, authenticity to the recipe, and my own standards,” Ghahreman said.
Ghahreman is well qualified to serve international cuisine. Born in Iran and educated in Switzerland, Ghahreman is trained in the French tradition of cooking. He has worked at resorts in Malaysia, Hawaii, Turkey, as well as locations throughout the continental United States, picking up cooking styles and techniques along the way.
Ghahreman said coming to Sapphire is like “you just sat on a first class plane ride and you traveled around the world.”
The food isn’t the only thing that’s been given a Laguna Beach twist. The restaurant’s interior was designed by Laguna Beach architect Si Teller and the décor features art from local artists including John Eagle.
The design is an eclectic, early California beach-style chic. It gleans some elements from the former Pottery Shack, which once stood in Sapphire’s place.
Decorated in rich wood tones, a good deal of what Sapphire holds is handmade. Everything from the tables to the stemware is specially crafted, which makes the restaurant a unique dining experience.
There is an outdoor patio with views of the ocean and glass artist John Barber’s demonstration area. There is also a large fireplace outside.
Ghahreman said that although he wants everything to be of the utmost in quality, he also wants Sapphire to be accessible. The moderate pricing — with dinner plates less than $30 — and the warm décor does just that.
“I want them to feel at home, I want them to say ‘wow’,” Ghahreman said of his potential customers. “I want to appeal to families.”
Ghahreman also said he wants the diner to experience a piece of him at Sapphire.
“When people come here, you’ve come to my home,” Ghahreman said. Sapphire employs 18 chefs under Ghahreman’s direction as well an additional 70 people on staff.
Ghahreman said his interest in food started when he was a boy growing up in Iran. He said his mother entertained often and he experienced the kitchen at a young age.
“The cuisine, the party, the atmosphere — it was intriguing,” Ghahreman said. “Beats doing homework.”
In all his travels, Ghahreman has collected a library of more than 1,200 recipe books — some more than 100 years old — and he says they play a key part in his cooking.
“Those are the secrets. Touching, feeling, using your five senses to experience the ingredients,” Ghahreman said. Ghahreman’s passion for fine ingredients was the catalyst of an addition to the restaurant — the Sapphire Pantry.
The Sapphire Pantry is a gourmet specialty shop attached to the restaurant.
The shop offers more than 120 cheeses as well as hard-to-find international wines, meats and coffees. Ghahreman said the Pantry was a second dream-come-true that piggybacked on the opening of Sapphire.
“It’s like you dream two good dreams and you wake up and they’re there,” Ghahreman said.
As for why he chose Laguna Beach, Ghahreman said he didn’t find the spot, it found him, and he plans on sticking around the community for a while.
“I want to be here 20 years or more,” Ghahreman said. “I’m not here to get rich quick.”
Sapphire is located at 1200 So. Coast Highway. For reservations, call (949) 715-9888.