How Chef Joe Garcia Is Ushering in a Culinary Renaissance at the Hotel Bel-Air

"The new direction and menu is meant to match the ambiance of Hotel Bel-Air and what this iconic destination represents, which is timeless glamour," chef Joe Garcia tells Observer.

Chef Joe Garcia.

Since opening in 1946, Hotel Bel-Air has been a haven for A-list celebrities, film aficionados and L.A. neighborhood locals. Tucked away on 12 acres in the windy roads of Bel-Air, the lush grounds boast tropical gardens, fountains, ponds and even a couple of resident swans. For decades, visitors and residents have made dinner and drinks at Hotel Bel-Air a part of their regular routine, and The Restaurant has acted as the heart of this iconic Dorchester Collection hotel. Now, the food and beverage program is starting a new chapter under the leadership of newly-appointed culinary director Joe Garcia, and we got a peek of what’s in store. 

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Throughout his 20 years in the industry, Joe Garcia has worked in some of the most top-tier kitchens in the country, including Bicyclette, Manzke and The French Laundry. Garcia, who grew up in Santa Barbara, had planned on joining the military, but due to his parent’s objections, ended up enrolling in culinary school. “I told myself I was only going to go for a semester, and then I’d enroll in the military after turning 18,” Garcia tells Observer. “Long story short, here I am, wearing a chef coat.” 

As the culinary director for Hotel Bel-Air, Garcia is heading the opening of two new concepts, The Living Room and The Patisserie, both of which are set to open June 1, 2024. Garcia has also revamped The Restaurant menu, bringing back classic French influences that blend harmoniously with fresh California produce. “With The Restaurant, I really just wanted to get back to the basics,” he explains. “Trends come and go, but classics are classics for a reason.” In addition to reinterpreting traditional flavor combinations, Garcia and his team have mastered the art of applying phenomenal techniques to high-quality ingredients. Though the menu will maintain signature dishes like the melt-in-your-mouth bluefin tuna crudo, offerings will change regularly based on what is in season and available at local farmer’s markets.

The tuna crudo. Hotel Bel-Air

“I feel like before, the menu at The Restaurant was too much of a fusion, which doesn’t necessarily fit this property, in particular,” Garcia says. “The new direction and menu is meant to match the ambiance of Hotel Bel-Air and what this iconic destination represents, which is timeless glamour.” Garcia’s executive sous chef, Gel Zara, who has been at the property for close to 11 years, is also thrilled about the changes being implemented at Hotel Bel-Air. “We have so many regulars who treat Hotel Bel-Air like a second home, and I’m so excited for them to experience this turn in the culinary program,” says Zara. “The menu has remained pretty consistent for over a decade, but now, it feels like The Restaurant has a more well-rounded identity that is rooted in fine dining and classic French influences.”  

Gel Zara.

This summer, guests will also have the opportunity to switch things up and dine at The Living Room. “The Living Room is going to provide guests with an elevated and sophisticated atmosphere where they can truly dress to the nines,” explains Garcia. “It’s going to be more on par with the concepts at other Dorchester properties.” The Living Room menu will feature creative interpretations of classics along with elevated offerings like a champagne cart, tableside martinis and more. One dish that guests should look forward to is the Lobster en Gelée, which boasts tender chunks of lobster set in its own gelled consume. A rich layer of crème fraîche is then topped with a heaping serving of Kaluga caviar, resulting in a decadent dish that will leave your taste buds in awe. 

The Restaurant at Hotel Bel-Air.

Finally, pastry chef Christophe Rull is bringing his love and passion for pastries to the upcoming Patisserie. After spending six years in Las Vegas, Rull took an executive pastry chef position in San Diego, where he found himself receiving one television opportunity after the other. “My first TV appearance was on Food Network’s Halloween Wars, and my team won the season,” Rull tells Observer. “I also won Holiday Wars shortly after that, which was amazing and overwhelming, and then the opportunities just kept coming.” Rull was also featured on two seasons of Netflix’s Bake Squad before he decided to challenge himself at the World Chocolate Masters, where he won the national selection in Chicago. 

“At the Patisserie, we will make simple products with the best ingredients,” Rull explains. “This is a new page of the hotel’s story, and I’m so thrilled to be making history at one of the most exclusive properties in the world. This is even better than winning the World Chocolate Masters for me.” Though the Patisserie will eventually have a top-tier chocolate program, the Patisserie will start off serving grab-and-go pastries and freshly baked breakfast goods. The sourdough bread will be made from a 10-year-old sourdough starter, while the flaky croissants will be made with local flours and French butter. “Most importantly, every pastry is made with love,” says Rull.

Christophe Rull.

With so much on the horizon for Hotel Bel-Air, both loyal regulars and first-time visitors have plenty to look forward to, as Joe Garcia and his talented team bring a fresh and glamorous take to this historic property.

How Chef Joe Garcia Is Ushering in a Culinary Renaissance at the Hotel Bel-Air