Coronado, CA – Since the resort opened in 1888, the Hotel del Coronado has enjoyed a distinguished culinary history. In those days, dining was a lavish social event, and much of the day was devoted to dressing for or enjoying a meal. In 1920, an enormous banquet was held here for England’s Prince of Wales, and in 1927 Charles Lindbergh was honored with his own celebration after his successful transatlantic flight. The Crown Room was also the scene for the first state dinner held outside of the White House. Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum is credited with designing the crown chandeliers that adorn the ceiling.
It is only fitting then that The Del’s Executive Chef, a California native who loves to surf, fish and has more energy than Superman, is definitely not your typical chef. The position of Executive Chef for a major hotel is a daunting job to say the least. It requires managing a culinary staff in the hundreds, operations for multiple restaurants and overseeing banquet and catering events, food and wine purchasing, dining presentation and service and much more. Joining The Del in November 2006, Chef John made it his objective to not only oversee the resort’s dining operations, but to transform The Del’s culinary landscape completely.
Shelton grew up in San Juan Capistrano, fishing and surfing the Southern California coastline. Chasing the surf to Baja, mainland Mexico, Tahiti and Hawaii, he began to acquire a passion for local cuisines. As his interests grew, he ventured to culinary school and began his classical cuisine experience. He worked for nine years at the prestigious Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel and then at several California Starwood properties. Eventually his career led him throughout the U.S. where he opened several Westin Hotels. When the Executive Chef position opened at the Hotel del Coronado, he jumped at the chance to return home. At The Del, Shelton was free to draw inspiration from his first love, the ocean, and from the onset his vision for the resort centered around the experience provided by the sea.
Shelton’s passion for California’s natural gifts and abundance manifests itself in an emphasis on fresh, local and sustainable cuisine. In 2010, he oversaw the re-concepting of Sheerwater to a fish-focused eatery where guests can choose from a wide variety of seafood including the chef’s specialty: the freshest catch of the day from local fisherman. 1500 OCEAN, The Del’s signature restaurant, focuses on Southland Coastal cuisine with selections from Santa Ynez to Cabo San Lucas (John’s well-tread stomping grounds). Offering the freshest seasonal ingredients from local farmers and producers, this restaurant is a true picture of the diversity of the California coastline. His redesign of the Crown Room Brunch experience elevated the offering to entirely new level with lavish seafood and sushi stations, fresh weekly chef’s compositions and south-of-the-border inspired dishes. Realizing that the view was the big story on the Sun Deck, the team endeavored to create the ultimate Southern California casual beachfront experience. Completely redone with contemporary communal lounge sofas and tables plus fabulous fire pits, there is truly no better spot on the planet to enjoy grilled items and tropical drinks. This summer, the Sun Deck will serve up a new family-style dinner menu including hot and cold platters of fresh Mexican cuisine, buckets of Coronitas and spectacular sunset views.
Shelton’s quest to utilize sustainable ingredients led him to create the resort’s spectacular new vegetable and herb garden. Located on the beach side of the resort in front of 1500 OCEAN and the spa, the garden produces more than 25 varieties of plants including beans, strawberries, rosemary, garlic, red cabbage, golden sage, oregano, celery, mint leaves, chives, lettuce, peppers and more, which are all picked and used by the chef’s nightly. So the next time you enjoy a strawberry mojito at the Sunset Bar, you can enjoy the knowledge that most of what you’re consuming came from the earth a few feet in front of you.
Nowhere has Shelton left his thumbprint more than on The Del’s catering events. Gone are the traditional chafing dishes, skirting and banquet-style dining. Chef Shelton focuses on providing guests with a quintessential Southern California beach experience. To maximize The Del’s unique outdoor venues, the team brings the display kitchen right to the shore. New Southern-style, wood-burning pits and rotisserie smokers fill the air with the sweet smell of slow-roasted BBQ. Large aluminum ice luges display bar items and a variety of fresh seafood offerings. Simple, modern display and serving pieces (many of which are designed by the chef and created right here by The Del’s facilities team), provide a contemporary ambiance in the resort’s historic setting. Guests can watch the chefs at action stations, preparing the freshest food in a fun, interactive environment. Shelton’s seemingly endless current of energy finds outlets in the many charity events, weddings and banquets that take place at The Del every day. It’s his goal to provide each group with a unique experience that perfectly suits the theme of their event. So, don’t be surprised if when you go to plan your next Polynesian Pig Roast, Chef John offers to have his team weave placemats out of some palm fronds he found down at the beach after his last paddle-out.
Shelton’s rare gift of creativity, impassioned love of California and truly unqiue character have inspired his team to think outside of the box and to strive to provide exceptional dining experiences at every opportunity. “I feel unbelievably fortunate to live here; to be able to surf every morning and cook every afternoon. I want everyone who visits The Del to experience that same feeling that I get when I look out at the magnificent horizon,” says Shelton, who seems to draw endless inspiration from his beloved Pacific.