Executive chef Sean Michael Runyon oversees 1 Pico at Shutters on the Beach that serves passionately prepared grilled dishes. (Shutters on the Beach/Submitted)

10 questions with 1 Pico’s Executive Chef Sean Michael Runyon

Helmed by executive chef Sean Michael Runyon, 1 Pico offers simply grilled dishes passionately prepared with the finest ingredients. Located at Shutters on the Beach, which was named Southern California's No. 2 hotel in this year’s Conde Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards, the restaurant recently launched a menu that includes standout dishes such as Elysian Farms lamb rib chop, sustainably farmed Loch Duart salmon from Scotland, candy stripe beet gazpacho, and John Givens beef steak tomatoes. 

Runyon brings with him more than a decade of expertise from Michelin-starred restaurants and Forbes five-star hotels. 

His passion for the industry began at a young age when he started working with his college’s food service team as a barista, banquet chef and sous chef. 

He earned a culinary degree from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and went on to elevate his skills at restaurants throughout San Francisco including 4 Corners, Farmer Brown, and Chambers Eat and Drink.

Making his way down to Southern California, Runyon served as a chef de tournat for Nobu Malibu and Nikita Malibu, before serving as a sous chef for The Peninsula Beverly Hills. Most recently, he was chef de cuisine for the high-end Discovery Land private clubs, catering to VIPs and celebrity clientele. Under his leadership, guests at Shutters on the Beach can enjoy a redefined culinary experience at 1 Pico.

“The proteins and produce I select hail from boutique purveyors who sell almost exclusively to chefs,” Runyon said. 

“Los Angeles is an international gateway and a city of foodies, so I am always on the lookout for the most exceptional ingredients. Being a coastal chef, my phone rings daily from fishermen about their amazing catches of the day, sometimes while the fish are still on the hook. They’ll even send me a video as they are pulling it into the boat. It’s almost like being out there with them.”

Runyon shared what sparked his interest in the culinary arts, the most important thing he learned in culinary school, and his favorite ingredient to cook with, among others.

What got you interested in cooking?

My mother definitely sparked my interest in cooking. She has always been brilliant in the kitchen. Every Thanksgiving she would be cooking up a storm for a hundred people wearing Chanel. Before I was 10 years old I would wake up, go to the kitchen and fry eggs for my brother and me…without asking permission from my parents to fire up the stove. 

How did you become a chef?

As a teenager in Dallas, I peeled potatoes and onions at the school cafeteria as a way of making some money. I was moved to the grill and started making hamburgers and roasting the chicken…I was hooked. When I graduated, I decided to move to San Francisco to pursue more hands-on training in the culinary arts. My cousin was living there at the time and we shared an apartment while I gained experience working with some of the city’s best chefs. I worked hard, learned a lot and made a lot of connections. Fourteen years later, I found this wonderful home at 1 Pico.

Most important thing you learned in culinary school?

The most important thing I learned at Le Cordon Bleu California are all of the classic French techniques of cooking especially knife skills. There are so many ways to prepare produce and acquiring these skills has allowed me to be more proficient.  

What’s the first dish you learned to make really well?

Crepes! I loved making crepes as an 8 year old, and I was a master at it. You have to get the consistency of the batter just right and make sure the temperature of the pan is on point. My family loved being my official tasters and I made them in so many different ways. I experimented with various sweet and savory combinations.

Signature dish you’re known for?

It’s a dish that I was challenged to create by our general manager, Christophe Baraton. He challenged me to reinvent the crab cake, and my crab and corn Espuma was born. My sweet and savory deconstructed crab cake allows you to enjoy each flavor separately and it is a local’s favorite.

Favorite ingredient to cook with and why?

I would have to say vinegar is my favorite ingredient to cook with, especially a good champagne vinegar from Banyulssur-Mer, in southern France. I love everything it brings to the table. An acidic kick, a refreshing bite, and often the ingredient that I’ve noticed many dishes are lacking. 

Kitchen tool you can’t live without?

I recently commissioned my friend Todd Harrington of TH Blades to make me a custom knife. Todd is a talented chef and also a culinary craftsman. It is my prized possession and I use it every single day.

Who do you look up to in the culinary world?

There are so many chefs I draw inspiration from. Thomas Keller, Dominique Crenn and Paul Bocuse, to name a few.

What do you love about being a chef?

I love the joy I feel when I am planning a menu with my team, training them, helping the service staff understand the menu, and watching everyone work together to execute great service. At the end of the shift, the guests are happy, the staff feels accomplished, and everyone has put in a solid day’s work to provide for their families. There is no other feeling quite like it. That’s what I love about being a chef. Watching something develop from a dream to reality. 

If you could have a meal with anyone, who would it be?

That’s a tough one. I would have to say either Auguste Escoffier or Julia Child. I’d probably lean toward Julia Child. She was a legend in the kitchen, a trailblazing chef, and I have heard she was fun to have dinner with.


1 Pico

1 Pico Boulevard, Santa Monica