Meet Your Merchant: A Tahoe recipe for success – Chef Kellan Hori’s career heats up
March 19, 2012
CARNELIAN BAY, Calif. – It’s not your typical culinary story. Chef Kellan Hori didn’t grow up in a household brimming with talented cooks, he hasn’t had much training outside his own kitchen, and he doesn’t care much for sweating it out behind the line of a restaurant.
What Hori brings to the table is far more valuable than all these ingredients combined: He possesses an insatiable appetite for cooking and an innate love of food.
“I’ve always love to eat, so much so that I could never afford to eat at the really nice restaurants because I was spending so much money on food, and that’s where cooking came about for me,” Hori said while slicing up a pineapple in his Carnelian Bay kitchen. “I enjoyed figuring out how to prepare the ingredients myself – I liked to figure out what it was that made something taste so good.”
Growing up in Palo Alto, Calif., Hori’s parents didn’t splurge on cable, so when basic Saturday morning cartoons were over, Hori tuned into Chef Jacques Pepin’s popular cooking show, where he first became captivated by the art of cooking.
“My parents weren’t the best cooks – sorry Mom!” Hori says, laughing. “I was always super hungry as a kid, and was always an athlete, so I looked to make meals better.”
Hori’s passion for mixing and matching ingredients carried over into his college years at the University of California, San Diego, where he studied economics.
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“When I went to college, I said screw the dorms and instead, I lived in apartments because I didn’t want to be stuck eating dorm food three meals a day,” Hori recalled. “I was a college athlete and I wanted to control my diet so I’d always be cooking for myself and my friends.”
Hori grabs some fresh strawberries and raspberries, adding them to the bowl of sliced pineapple. He’s been hired by some North Lake Tahoe second homeowners who were hungry for Hori’s kitchen expertise. He’s prepping for a breakfast he will be cooking in the morning.
After completing his undergraduate education, Hori went on to graduate school for entrepreneurship – a degree that proved useful when Hori finally sharpened his knife skills and put all of his energy into launching a private chef business venture, dubbed Kellan’s Kitchen.
Through some personal connections at Tahoe Luxury Properties, Hori proved his cooking skills to the vacation rental company and earned himself a spot on their vendor list of private chefs. While splitting his time between San Francisco and North Lake Tahoe, Hori began whipping up his culinary creations in private kitchens throughout the region faster than water boils in altitude.
“The beginning was a little bit of a pipe dream for me – I thought it would be fun, I thought I could do it, but I wasn’t putting a whole lot of pressure on myself,” Hori said. “The first winter, I thought, if I get one client it will be a victory, and then my phone started blowing up and I had a bunch of gigs.”
Chef Hori isn’t without culinary training – in fact the foodie and travel junkie spent a short stint in Tuscany, Italy, where he attended traditional cooking classes while sampling the local cuisine.
He also ate his way through Australia for six months where he put his taste buds to the test by sampling crocodile, emu and kangaroo. However, it wasn’t until a nine-month visit to Ireland that Hori really honed his cooking skills.
“Ireland was interesting because the food is terrible – they’re staple items are Guinness and whiskey, so I cooked three meals a day the whole time I was there,” Hori said.
While Hori is quick to chaff his parent’s culinary skills, the multiracial chef is thankful for his Japanese heritage, which has inspired many of his Asian recipes.
“I grew up eating a lot of traditional Japanese food that my grandmother would make,” said Hori, adding that he also traveled to Japan where he gained a better understanding of Asian food culture.
With Mother Nature working Hori’s favor last winter, clientele boomed and Hori found himself donning a chef hat more often than not. But the pivotal moment really came about in March 2011 when Hori received a phone call from the Blue Moon Brewing Company, who got wind of Hori’s talents and summoned him to create customized recipes using their spread of handcrafted beers.
Over the course of one week, Hori chatted back and forth with representatives from the Colorado-based brewery, who were looking to sink their teeth into some custom-made dishes that highlighted the eclectic palate of beers. They agreed to feature the recipes on their website and paid Hori a pretty penny for each submission.
“It really hit me was last winter when I went to the grocery store and walked by the beer aisle and saw a Blue Moon stack with a label that said there were seasonally paired recipes inside,” Hori said. “I went home and ripped the 12-pack open like a little kid at Christmas and was so excited to see my recipes beautifully laid out in a pamphlet.”
Having the popular beer label on board with Chef Hori’s creations gave him the momentum to continue moving forward with his tasteful undertaking, and in a few weeks, he will be jet-setting to Blue Moon’s Chicago-based headquarters to brainstorm additional food and beer pairings.
When he’s not cooking up a storm in North Lake Tahoe, Hori focuses his efforts on marketing and managing his business from San Francisco, where he continues to network with clients and build relationships with other food and booze hounds. At a recent happy hour in the city, Hori met a tequila maker and immediately went to work pairing the product with his own unique recipes.
“I absolutely love hosting dinner parties and would have to say it’s one of my favorite things to do in life,” Hori says, removing his apron. “My mantra is that food should be enjoyed with good company over good wine – it should be passed around family style. It’s about the act of eating, the act of enjoying a meal together and celebrating that shared love.”