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Haute Cuisine at SideStageChefs: Josiah Citrin, Antonia Lofaso, Max Boonthanakit and Lijo George

by Alyssa McArdle

Allen Sanford has made a career out of tapping into locals’ passion for live music, great food, and their own South Bay beach culture.

Bringing the first-ever outdoor musical festival to the beach cities would be impressive as is. But Sanford has married the three-day BeachLife Festival with a one-of-a-kind culinary experience: SideStage, a 100-seat restaurant built on the wing of the festival’s mainstage. BeachLife’s headliners perform while 100 hungry guests enjoy a curated 4-course meal by some of the region’s most acclaimed chefs.

SideStage debuted alongside the festival in 2018. And just as Sanford has upped the ante with the festival’s music lineup each year, he continues to refine the SideStage experience.

“BeachLife was built by food and beverage people,” Sanford said. “It’s only natural that the food scene grows alongside the growth of the festival. We imagined it up in 2018, and now we are adding all the accouterments.”

What that means for Sanford is expanding and redesigning the layout of the dining floor to optimize patron views, supplementing the makeshift backstage kitchen with a proper brick and mortar prep kitchen, and continuing to mine for big name LA chefs to run the line.

Luckily, he has some help this year.

Chef Jacob Ramos

Chef Jacob Ramos, a native Aneglino, was running the Sunrise Mona Lisa, a mecca to Mediterranean cuisine perched on an epic Oceanside cliff in Cabo San Lucas, when his friend Brad Metzger stopped in for dinner. Sitting on the veranda of the acclaimed restaurant, Metzger encouraged Ramos to bring the concept back to LA. Ramos was thriving in Mexico and loved the autonomy he enjoyed at Sunrise Mona Lisa after over two decades of paying his dues in LA fine dining restaurants and Ritz Carltons. He didn’t consider Metzger’s words until months later, when he lost his mom and found himself back in California. He called Metzger. Brad told him to call Sanford.

“I was back maybe a day and a half when I drove down to meet Allen,” Ramos said. The connection was instant, and Sanford quickly brought Ramos on to manage the food and beverage side of BeachLife. “We know exactly what we want and how we are going to get there.”

Chef Josiah Citrin

Ramos got what he wanted when he landed Chef Josiah Citrin for opening night of the festival. Citrin is a highly decorated fixture in the LA dining scene with two restaurants, Mélisse and Citrin, that boast Michelin star ratings. (The former is high-concept and tasting-menu-only with a kitchen and dining room in one open space; it has two Michelin stars and could double for the fabled restaurant in 2022’s “The Menu.”).

“Josiah was one of my idols 21 years ago when I started cooking in LA,” said Ramos, who worked under Citrin at Patina. “He was the first person I wanted.”

It was a pretty easy ask.

“I feel fortunate to be part of it,” Citrin said. “I love music, I love rock n’ roll. I’ve cooked out in the fields at Coachella, but never on stage like this before. It’s exciting.”

Citrin’s turn at the helm will coincide with some of Friday’s biggest acts: Kurt Vile, the Pixies and the Black Keys. He’s still perfecting the menu but said it will reflect his signature French-influenced seasonal California cuisine.

Chefs Max Boonthanakit and Lijo George

“I’m thinking of starting with a white and green asparagus dish with caviar, a seafood course with spring vegetables and morel mushrooms, then a local beef ribeye with ramps,” Citrin said.

Each chef will do three turns at SideStage, sponsored this year by DAOU Vineyards, at 4:30, 6:30 and 10:30pm, in line with the sets. On Saturday night, Citrin will pass the baton to Chef Anotonia Lofaso, Food Network host and chef owner of three LA restaurants, who will cook to the sounds of Dispatch, Band of Horses, and Gwen Stefani. Sunday welcomes Chefs Max Boonthanakit and Lijo George of Camphor, a downtown destination for French and South Asian fare, while Noah Cyrus, CAAMP, and the Black Crowes close out the weekend.

Ramos is going to get his hands dirty, too. He’s teaming up with celebrity pastry Chef Stephanie Boswell to bring brunch to BeachLife on Saturday and Sunday.

Chef Stephanie Boswe

“We’re doing poached eggs, pork belly, a waffle station with 20 different toppings,” Ramos said. “Boswell is going to deck out the whole buffet with her pastries.”

If it sounds like planning Side Stage has been a walk on the beach, Ramos says it has had its challenges.

“Right now, I feel really good, but a month ago I was getting nervous,” he said. “Josiah says yes but then he doesn’t call back for weeks. I was like, ‘Oh my god, are these guys going to show up?’ You have no idea how hard it is to get a confirmation from a celebrity chef.”

And it’s not just the chefs Ramos had to book. He’s staffing the whole food and beverage program.

“From the dishwashers to Josiah…I have placed every single person involved,” he said. “It’s a lot more talking than I am used to…I feel like, ‘Are we done? Can I go back in the kitchen now?’”

Chef Antonia Lofaso

Sanford and Ramos are also working on BeachLife Restaurant and California Surf Club, a new venture in King Harbor that will exist within the footprint of the festival grounds, but all year round.

“We want BeachLife to be an everyday thing rather than twice a year,” Allen said, referring to BeachLife’s sister festival, the country music focused BeachLife Ranch. “These new locations will be a culmination of that spirit.”

Locals can expect BeachLife Restaurant late in 2023, and California Surf Club at the start of 2024. Ramos is gunning for a Michelin star and hopes to bring the magic of Sunset Mona Lisa to the South Bay with BeachLife Restaurant. But, for now, he is laser-focused on the May festival.

“Just picture it,“ he said. “The sun is going down, the Black Keys are playing, we are dropping Michelin-star dishes, hearing 14,0000 cheering fans. I don’t know anything that can rival that. I don’t think there would be a better place on earth to be in that moment.”


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