Teri McIllwain (Courtesy photo)

Carlsbad resident Teri McIllwain said she always considered cooking to be magical. As a child, she cooked rice for her family before progressing to more elaborate dishes.

“I always had an interest in cooking,” McIllwain said. “I thought it was just magic how recipes would come together to create something for everyone to enjoy. I knew how special I felt when I was given a perfect meal and I began wanting to share that part of myself with others.”

McIllwain went on to study the art of cooking at San Diego Culinary Institute. Now, at 38, she’s the
executive chef at Chandler’s Carlsbad at the Cape Rey hotel.

McIllwain, who has led Chandler’s for three years, is now known for dishes such as Cioppino and lobster and shrimp nachos. Despite offering mouth-watering recipes, the Carlsbad resident prides herself in using clean ingredients.

“I would say my cooking philosophy is clean, healthful, from scratch, coastal cuisine that utilizes local and seasonal ingredients,” McIllwain said. “I believe in refueling and recharging, so when I’m building a menu, I like to be sure to have some indulgences but also having a good mix of harvest grains and seeds, fruit oils, superfoods, and seasonal produce and herbs.”

Inspired by her colleagues and guests, McIllwain said she’s committed to making “healthy food taste delicious.”

So what kind of advice would the longtime chef give to amateurs?

“I’d tell young, budding chefs to find a kitchen with a good team and good chef that allows you to learn, grow and hone your skill,” McIllwain said. “Stay with that team until your opportunity arrives to be your own chef.”

For more information about Chandler’s Carlsbad, go to www.chandlerscarlsbad.com.