At David Lentz’s The Hungry Cat restaurants (with locations in Hollywood, Santa Barbara, and Santa Monica, California), the chef has solidified his reputation as a first-rate seafood man, with a killer raw bar and dishes like a Mediterranean-inspired “Lamb ’n’ Clams” (merguez sausage and Manila clams) or a tuna tartare with cashew pesto, coconut milk, furikake, Thai basil, and crispy onions. Hailing from Baltimore, where he crabbed and fished on the Chesapeake with his father, Lentz, you might say, was born to it.

In truth, though, Lentz says he “was scared” of seafood until he was 20, when he began his culinary education, working his way up the line. After taking classes at Baltimore International Culinary College, Lentz took the route of hands-on cooking experience, from an internship at Michelin two-star Clivedon, in England, to San Francisco’s The Heights. In Miami, he hit the kitchen of China Grill, as well as Claude Troisgros’s Blue Door at the Delano Hotel. A stint as executive chef at the Las Vegas China Grill followed.

Moving to Los Angeles in 2000, Lentz not only did a stint at Mark Peel’s Campanile, he met chef Suzanne Goin at her restaurant Lucques—the two have been married for more than a decade, and have three children. Lentz also launched his first L.A. restaurant, Opaline, in 2003, where his cooking, said L.A. Weekly critic Michelle Huneven was “earthy and robust but also capable of subtlety, taking its cues from both the African and the European shores of the Mediterranean.” Of Lentz’s cassoulet, Huneven declared it “a dense, rich, many-pleasured dish, as comforting as a roaring fire and a big quilt.”

Since 2005, with The Hungry Cat, Lentz has hit on a combination of the artisan (house-smoked meats and seafood) and the inventive (seasonal cocktails) that has struck a chord with Angelenos who like their food crafted and casual. Said LA Magazine, “its pulse is not of Hollywood but of some inlet where everyone’s wearing cutoffs and sun-bleached baseball caps.”

Lentz and Goin are committed to more than their respective restaurants and their family. They host an annual benefit for the foundation Alex’s Lemonade Stand, gathering star chefs together to raise money for childhood cancer research.