Shaun Behrens of Luna Red, SLO
Luna Red Executive Chef Shaun Behrens openly admits to being spoiled—by his environment, that is. For Behrens, working with about two dozen small Central Coast farms connects him to the land in a way that reminds him of long summer days in his hometown of Lake Tahoe.
“When I think about my earliest culinary influences, I remember fishing on the lake and being surrounded by wild foods, flowers and berries,” said Behrens. “For me, it’s always been about what you can get that’s around you.”
In 1992, Behrens relocated to the Central Coast to become an engineer, but ultimately ditched the idea to attend San Francisco’s Culinary Institute of America. In 2011, the graduate had his choice of two glittering internships: one in Pebble Beach, one in London.
“9/11 hit around that time, and resort work dried up,” said Behrens, who had sold most of what he owned to attend culinary school. “So I traded a few culinary textbooks for a bicycle and rode to my new internship at Mosaic’s, now Lotus, in San Luis Obispo.”
The hardworking chef went on to find subsequent culinary experience in Santa Barbara Wine Country, where he experienced success, yet struggled with finding balance between quality, price and sustainability.
“I still wasn’t sure what the root of cuisine was and had yet to really find my personal philosophy,” he said, adding that he went on to find a sense of plate-planet harmony in Portland, Oregon.
“From my experience in Portland, I took away this made-by-scratch philosophy,” said Behrens. “Coming back to San Luis Obispo, I found myself part of a tight group of chefs who believed in their own convictions. ... I try to encourage people to eat the way I feel we should be eating: seasonally.”
For the chef, winter on the Central Coast means working with turnips, parsnips, kale and hearty lettuces. A heavy dose of local citrus and spice adds punch year round.
“The menu is a reflection of the area with an emphasis global flavors,” said Behrens. “The seasonal aspect certainly dictates what we do, but I feel like I’m a better chef because of it.”
To understand why, the chef said, all one has to do is bite into a perfectly ripe, locally sourced roasted beet.
“There’s just something about a beet in the fall and a beet in the spring,” said Behrens. “It will simply always taste better than a beet in the summer.”