(credit: istockphoto)

(credit: istockphoto)

Jason Montelibano has been at Chapter One: The Modern Local since it opened in March, 2011. He began as a dishwasher and has worked his way up to chef of the restaurant. This is his first job as a chef, but not his first job in a restaurant. He previously worked at The Fish Market and the five-diamond Island Hotel in Newport Beach.
(credit: Chapter One)

(credit: Dominic De La Riva)

Jason Montelibano
Chapter One: The Modern Local
227 N. Broadway
Santa Ana, CA 92701
(714) 352-2225

Preparing a holiday menu can be an intimidating task. You’re preparing food for more people than you normally would, and you want your guests to remember what you’ve prepared. Jason Montelibano of Chapter One: The Modern Local provides some tips for creating and executing a holiday menu this season.

Be prepared
If you’re the one preparing the holiday menu, you’re probably going to spend most of the day in the kitchen. One way to focus on the cooking the day of the dinner is to prepare as many things as possible beforehand. For instance, if you’re going to cook a turkey, you can do what Montelibano does and brine the turkey. His brine is water with equal parts salt and sugar, seasonings to taste and citrus. After letting it brine for three days, he is ready to dress and cook it.

Get the good stuff
The key to a good holiday menu – as with any good meal – is to use the best ingredients possible. If you get the right ingredients, you won’t have to over season. You should take the approach of seasoning your food to enhance it, not to cover its flaws. Montelibano prepares his own herb mix, which is versatile enough to be used to bring out the flavor in chicken, fish, red meat or even soups.

Keep it simple
When you’re planning a holiday menu, it’s easy to go overboard. After all, you want your guests to be impressed with what you put in front of them. Still, between the prep work, the cooking and entertaining your guests, you’ll have plenty to do. You don’t want to overload yourself. So instead of making recipes that you think have some “Wow!” factor, make the dishes you’re good at preparing. A well-done plate of macaroni and cheese can be just as impressive as any fancier dish you saw on television.

Holiday Recipes from an OC Chef

(credit: Thinkstock)

(credit: Thinkstock)

Macaroni and Cheese

Note: The first seven ingredients are for the bechamel and the last three ingredients are for the topping before you bake the macaroni and cheese.


  • 1 qt whole milk
  • 8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbsp Kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp black pepper
  • 2 cups white cheddar
  • 2 cups Gouda
  • 1 lb elbow macaroni
  • 4 qts water with 6 Tbsp salt added
  • 3 oz grated parmesan
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 4 Tbsp melted butter


  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Warm the milk over low heat and set it aside.
  3. Melt the stick of butter.
  4. Add the flour to the melted butter and whisk for approximately four minutes until the roux is a light-blonde color.
  5. Add the milk slowly to the roux.
  6. Over low heat, whisk in the two cheeses and cook for about two minutes.
  7. Turn off the heat and set the bechamel aside.
  8. Boil the water and add the macaroni.
  9. Stir the noodles constantly to prevent them from sticking.
  10. Cook the noodles until al dente.
  11. Drain the noodles and rinse them with cold water.
  12. Add the noodles to the bechamel.
  13. Add the noodles to a baking dish.
  14. Combine the parmesan cheese, melted butter and panko bread crumbs.
  15. Pour the panko mixture on top of the macaroni and cheese.
  16. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.
Gary Schwind is a freelance writer covering all things Orange County. His work can be found on Examiner.com.