Chef Mario Alcocer of Westlake Four Seasons Hotel - Big City Chef with a Country Garden

Bragging rights as a restaurant writer include being “first-to-know” and I couldn’t wait to rave about Mario Alcocer. The executive chef first wowed us at a ranch event where he had the biggest booth and the longest lines, and represented David Murdock’s Westlake Four Seasons Hotel. A beaming Mario and his pastry chef David Laufer, served endless trays of their delicate, decadent French “BLT” (strawberries, lettuce and peanut butter) chocolate macaroons.

Another afternoon when Chef Mario dined with us at the Lobby Lounge at the hotel, we found him to be as old-world gracious as he is elegant. Resembling matinee idol Roland Gilbert doesn’t hurt his image one bit.

All the while the chef quietly listed an impressive list of duties he kept an attentive ear on the noise level in the room. Alcocer oversees three restaurants, a chef’s table and private dining room, the extensive hotel catering and in-room dining and a pastry kitchen.

The takes pride in on “elegant dining in a tranquil, sophisticated atmosphere” and, indeed, hushed rooms look out through dramatic wrap-around windows onto dramatic panoramic garden views.

Yet the cordial topnotch staff is lively and in the culinary category it all “starts at the top” with wiry Chef Mario. This is the kind of guy for whom nothing seems too much to do, and he does it with a smile and with flair.

Because of the hotel’s partnership with the renowned California Health & Longevity Institute, Chef Mario works with the Director of Nutrition, Paulette Lambert, RD, CED to create health-conscious menus. He sometimes teaches class in the enviable, sunlit Wellness Kitchen down the hall. Beams Mario,“I love collaborating and I love

this challenge.”

When asked if the program influenced him, the compact chef laughed, “I lost 25 pounds after being on the program myself!”

Every dish arrives to gasps of delight, as appealing to the eye as it reads on his menu; former banquet Chef Alcocer knows what people like. “After all, he says with a grin, a restaurant is partly entertainment.”

Dishes are, incredulously, super- healthy because of Mario’s ingenious combination of ingredients. For example, the most refreshing, glorious gold Chilled Tomato Gazpacho, topped with Local Blue Crab and Balsamic Marinated Watermelon, is “eye candy.” With a gleam in his eyes, the chef told us “the watermelon cuts the acid” and the ingredients simulate the filling feeling of croutons.”

Packed with crab meat, the generously portioned Golden Crab Cakes are served with a tasty, filling Black Bean and Corn Ragout, and Red Pepper Aioli, making for lots of low-calorie flavor with little fat.

Laughs Mario, “we still have the basics, such as our Signature burger and popular Pink Snapper Tacos prepared with Corn Tortillas and traditional condiments, but starring a classy Achiote- marinated Pink Snapper.

An eye-popping Mediterranean Salad combines Pan Seared Striped Bass with Farro, Marinated Candy Kalamata Olives and Pickled Sweet Peppers. Mario soaks the farro for two hours and marinates it in a zesty lemon vinaigrette. Pine nuts add a crunch and completing the colorful plate is spinach, tart arugula and tomato.

In our latest bizarro American culinary trend, in which celebrity chefs loudly bellow out the three must-have “B’s” of bacon, butter and (pork) belly, Mario’s desserts absolutely defies the notion that only fat makes flavor.

A trio of sundaes arrives in a plexiglass stand with three tuiles holding layers of fruits, sorbet (cranberry, grape and strawberry). Punch your spoon down to mix your sorbet-fruit sundae, both sweet-tooth satisfying and a delightful palate cleanser.

Our final surprise awaited our question about using local produce. Mario grinned, leading the way out the terrace door to one garden of gorgeous, thriving herbs, and then another and then into a converted orchid greenhouse overflowing with baby zucchini and more fragrant herbs!

So.here is a chef who may have a country garden but is at heart and soul a very savvy urbanite (Mexico City), who brings a distinct culinary perspective and a joy to his job even after 20 years of Four Seasons experience (including Los Angeles).

Turns out my bragging rights were short-lived since Mario is already highly esteemed in the culinary world as a chef and an active community supporter. As for keeping such a treasure a secret to avoid a crowd, there’s plenty more to share and we can’t wait to try Chef Mario’s week-end Mediterranean-inspired menu at Hampton’s, his chef’s table and his sumptuous Sunday signature breakfast served right in the magnificent kitchen downstairs.

Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village, 818-575-3099,

www.fourseasons.com/westlakevillage

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