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Orange County's Men of the Moment

Tina Borgatta and Kristen Schott | March 20, 2017 | Feature Features

From a Grammy Award-winning high school music teacher to a James Beard Award-nominated chef, the men of Orange County are having a moment. Here, five trailblazers sound off—in their own words.

A lieutenant overseeing Irvine’s CSI and SWAT teams, he was named on the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s list of 40 outstanding law enforcement officers under the age of 40.

“When I was 11, my parents moved my brother and me to the United States from Egypt. And all while I was growing up, I had a fascination with police officers. I still recall the first time I was stopped by an officer, who happened to be with the Irvine Police Department. I was 14 and was stopped for wearing headphones while riding my bicycle. The motorcycle officer spoke to me more as a concerned father. A few weeks later, I enrolled in the Explorers program at the Irvine Police Department and began volunteering on weekends. Some years down the road, Sept. 11 happened, and several of my friends pursued careers in the military, federal agencies and law enforcement. I saw this as my calling, and within a few months, I was hired by the Irvine Police Department. For many members of our community, coming in contact with a police officer might happen once or twice in their lifetime—and sometimes it’s during a traumatic experience. That’s why it’s imperative for every officer to be compassionate and professional—because our contact will leave a lasting impression.”

The creative force behind the nationally acclaimed Taco María, he headed up the culinary revamp at the Ace Hotel Palm Springs’ King’s Highway and Amigo Room—and was named a 2017 James Beard Award Best Chef West semifinalist, for the second time.

“Getting laid off from the tech firm I worked for in 2000 was, I suppose, the restart of my culinary career. I remember sitting in the CEO’s office when he gave me the opportunity to move on. He said that I’d never be happy working for other people. I moved to San Francisco, found a passion for cooking and helped build two restaurants with chefs Daniel Patterson of Coi and James Syhabout of Commis. I soon realized the most emotional food I was cooking came from my family. I opened Taco María in Costa Mesa in 2013 as a vehicle for self-exploration. But if that menu is personal and introspective, then the food I’m doing at Ace is a bit more irreverent—a different side of my personality. I’m perpetuating my tradition of cooking excellence while also discovering inspiration in the culture and environment of Palm Springs. I’ve been joking that I’ve opened Michelin-starred restaurants, but the burgers at King’s Highway are my finest: the Desert Highway and the Cortez The Killer (I’m a Neil Young fan). I’d love to be a part of the property for a long time, tighten Taco María’s focus and build another concept in the coming year—and my wife, Emilie, and I are welcoming our first child this summer. It’s a natural next step.”

This choral director at Tesoro High was named music educator of the year at the Grammy Awards.

“I started playing the piano when I was 8 and singing in choir when I was 9. But my passion for singing and music really took off in middle school, when I performed in my first musical. It ignited a fire within me. Then, when I was 16, I sang Mahler’s 8th Symphony at the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the William Hall Master Chorale. Immediately, I knew I wanted to teach choral music. It brings out the emotion in me, adds a dimension of beauty in my life and connects me to God. I hold myself to a very high standard, and I’m never content with where I’m at as a teacher. I hold my students to the same standard. Having more than 200 students each year seeking a great musical experience drives me to stay sharp and be the best teacher I can be. I love creating these experiences with my students. Since I arrived at Tesoro 15 years ago, we’ve seen enrollment increase from 35 students to 225 students. Students are the best recruiters, and when they’re excited about the class and are part of something that’s high quality, educational and fun, they’ll naturally recruit their friends to join. I’ve had several offers to teach at the college and university level or do something musically different than what I’m doing now, but I feel called to the high school teaching life. It’s a perfect fit, and I honestly enjoy it the most. Things are going so well at Tesoro that I don’t see myself changing directions.”

The former second-generation MLB center fielder is now a savvy investor in five residential properties and four Courtyard Marriott hotels.

“Most people know of my father’s influence, but very few know of my grandfather Willie Smith’s influence on my post-baseball career. He was a real estate entrepreneur who owned strip malls and land in the San Fernando Valley. The whole family at one time or another worked for him. I didn’t know it at the time, but he taught me valuable lessons. I have vivid memories of watching him in negotiations—he was always calm, fair, honest and shrewd. Those lessons are, in large part, what gave me the courage to retire from the game at 37. The year I retired, I began working on a property in Corona del Mar. I grew up in a midcentury Joseph Eichler home in the Bay Area and have always had an appreciation for contemporary architecture, so building a home from the ground up was an exciting prospect. I enjoyed the daily site visits and recognized that I was applying the same lessons I’d learned from my father and grandfather. I had a team that included architect Carlton Graham, contractors Steve Davidson and Tom Waters, interior designer Michael Fullen and various subcontractors. And the dynamic was somewhat similar to baseball—a group of talented people all working toward the same goal.”

As president of Irvine-based IT solutions provider Trace3, this forward thinker (and venture capitalist) led the firm to $500 million-plus in sales in 2016.

“Innovation is not just a new idea, product or method. Innovation is having the clarity of vision to see a trend, the creative thinking to predict how that trend will play out and the courage to create something to take advantage of that trend for the benefit of all. That’s what has driven Trace3 since our founding in 2002. We have always put the needs of our clients—such as Sony, Toyota and DirecTV—first. The business world is littered with people and companies who are intent on serving themselves first while pretending to focus on the needs of others. I am inspired by a belief that it’s normal to want for your employees, yourself and your loved ones, as I do for my wife, Sarah, and our kids, Avery, CJ and Kenley. But the best way to get there is through genuine and sincere service to others. In the last 20 years, CEOs have been recognized as the executives best equipped to lead their businesses through a digital transformation. The next 20 years will see more chief innovation officers taking the business leadership reins. Trace3 will be known for addressing these trends with unique offerings for CIOs to speed them along on their journeys to becoming the CEOs of tomorrow.”

Shot on location at 42 Deep Sea, a new custom home in the Crystal Cove enclave of Newport Coast listed by Smith Group Real Estate for $23.9 million


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