Dana Hills Grad Becomes Top Chef at the Ritz

Marissa Gerlach, who can say she once served chef Gordon Ramsay, now takes the helm at RAYA restaurant inside the renowned hotel.

graduate Marissa Gerlach is the new head chef at RAYA located inside the famed

RAYA is a restaurant concept by acclaimed chef Richard Sandoval that showcases Pan-Latin Coastal cuisine prepared with sustainable seafood, local produce, natural and organic meats, and chef Sandoval’s signature Latin flavors.

"I have worked all over California, but I have found myself happy to come back to my home town," she said. "I became a chef because I love to cook.  I’ve always been good with my hands and very artistic, which translates well into the culinary field. I love that there is never a dull moment and you never stop learning."

With more than 7 years of culinary experience, chef Marissa is passionate about the food she serves her guests in RAYA. 

“Every product we use has a history, a story behind it. For instance, AquaFarm is a small local sustainable seafood farm in Southern California. I visited the facility where I learned so much about how using locally grown seafood not only offers the guests a much tastier product, but it helps lessen our carbon footprint,” she said. “It’s this type of experience that brings a story to the food we create and enjoy.” 

The 26-year-old said thanks to working alongside chef Richard Sandoval, she has become fond of unique ingredients such as Togarashi, an Asian seven spice, Huitlacoche, a sweet fungus that grows on corn, and Pilonillo, which is unrefined Mexican cane sugar that is smoky, caramel-like, and earthy all in one.

"Each week, my goal is to pair an ingredient like one of these with a fresh, seasonal product to create a new and unique dish. I present these dishes on the chef’s tasting menu and the best ones find their way on the seasonal menu,” she said.

Gerlach joined the resort in April 2010 as a culinary supervisor on the pre-opening team of RAYA. Within six months, she was promoted to sous chef where she continued to influence and contribute to the creation of the daily and seasonal menus. Co-workers say she also played a pivotal roll in RAYA being recognized as “Restaurant of the Year” by Riviera Orange County in July.

Prior to joining RAYA, she worked in the kitchens of some of the best restaurants and hotels in California including Bardessono in Yountville, The Restaurant at Meadowood in Napa Valley under Chef Christopher Kostow, and Cyrus in Healdsburg under Chef Douglas Keane.

The Dana Point native completed her Culinary Arts certification at Orange Coast College.  

Her advice to young people looking to become a chef or wishing to make a career in the field is simple: "It’s not peace of cake (no pun intended). Becoming a chef takes just as many hours, time of study and dedication as it does to become a doctor. Being a chef is a way of life. You don’t work normal hours and you tend to become a night owl. But if it is your passion, it’s a way of life that you love."

She said the most difficult aspect of being a chef is realizing that you can’t please everyone. 

"There will always be one person that just doesn’t understand your food/style and will just want a steak and baked potato. And I can do that and am happy to prepare something that will make them happy," she said.

In terms of her mentors, she said that she looks up to such celebrity chefs as Richard Sandoval, Rick Bayless, Jose Garces, Douglas Rodriguez and many others. 

And has she herself ever cooked for any famous chefs?

"All the time. The one that made me the most excited was when I was working at Meadowood Resort in Northern California and I prepared dinner for chef Gordon Ramsay. Everyone fears him because they think he is really like his persona from his reality shows, but off stage is very kind. The words from his lips that night were, 'best dinner he ever had in the States!'"




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