The Sacramento-born chef said he's bringing a fresh perspective to LB Steak, with a focus on all things seasonal and sustainable.
"Obviously we have the steakhouse thing going on. So we're kind of leaving that alone, but incorporating a deeper understanding of freshness and market-driven vegetables in to the menu."
An example? One of Gurnee's favorites on the menu right now is an heirloom apple and chestnut soup, which comes with whipped crème fraîche, an olive oil poached apple and crispy Serrano ham. The soup is made from "cool, different apples" that a guy from San Mateo drops off at the restaurant, sometimes along with herbs and flowers.
Gurnee said the restaurant also sources much from local farms (including sturgeon from a friend's fresh water farm outside Sacramento, served grilled with a cauliflower puree, chanterelle mushrooms and brussel sprouts).
Though Gurnee was raised in Sacramento, the LB Steak position is a return to roots in a way, too. His father and uncles went to Menlo School and his grandmother lives in Los Altos.
He said he grew up watching his grandmother and mother cook and has worked in restaurants since he was 15 years old.
"Every other job I had in high school or college was in food service. It's that second family that you adopt working in a restaurant."
He went on to graduate with honors from the California Culinary Academy and worked at two San Francisco establishments Jianna and Campton Place before returning home to Sacramento, where he worked at Café Bernardo, Sammy Chu's, and Mason's.
In 2010, he opened his own spot, Kupros Craft House, a gastro pub in his hometown. The restaurant's slogan "farm to fork with a state of great comfort" reflects his approach at LB Steak as well.
Gurnee spent the last two and half years at Wayfare Tavern, celebrity chef Tyler Florence's flagship restaurant in San Francisco's Financial District. Though a good experience, he characterized his time there as busy ("it's one of the most booked restaurants on Open Table"), and said he was ready for a change of pace. He knew LB Steak's owners, Roland Passot and Ed Levine, previously. They "tapped (him) on the shoulder, so to speak."
Gurnee is also incredibly active on social media; his Instagrams are drool-worthy. Eat your eyes out and follow him at @johngurnee.
LB Steak: 898 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park. 650- 321-8980