Brian Hirsty, executive chef for the Bluewater Grill, died March 10 following a recent diagnosis of a rare bone marrow disease. He was 47.
Hirsty grew up in Southern California. He would often awake before the sun rose, eager to spend time with local fishermen arriving with the day's catch, according to an online restaurant memorial tribute.
He would use the fish to practice recipes from the "Joy of Cooking" cookbook, the tribute continued, creating dishes praised by his earliest fan: his brother.
In 1996, after working in restaurants in high school and training with several hotel kitchens for about a decade, Bluewater Grill co-founders Jim Ulcickas and Rick Staunton hired Hirsty to work for the original Bluewater Grill restaurant, in Newport Beach.
"Chef Brian," as coworkers called him, was the only skinny chef you could trust, Ulcickas said.
Hirsty was always in motion, Ulcickas added, whether he was talking with customers, meeting with a vendor or working with an employee.
At least two dishwashers progressed under his guidance through pantry, salad bar and line cook positions to become chefs.
"He didn't have an ego," Ulcickas said, describing Hirsty as genuine. "He would talk with the servers, talk with the guests. He'd take a lot of feedback."
Creative and experimental, Hirsty tried to keep his finger on the pulse of culinary advances. He paid attention to new ingredients and put the restaurant on a path toward sustainable fish and locally grown food at least a decade ago, the restaurant owner said.
The company now has eight locations, with a ninth in the works, the founding of each of which Ulcickas likened to giving birth to a baby.
Hirsty is survived by his wife, Amy, son Dylan and daughter Chelsi, who live in Costa Mesa, and his mother, Faye Hirsty, who lives in Irvine.
Memorial donations can be made to the Dylan Hirsty Education Fund and Hirsty Family Fund, care of Joyce Martin at Bluewater Grill, 630 Lido Park Drive, Newport Beach, CA 92663.