By Frank Sabatini Jr.
Former Navy chef unleashes his talents in San Carlos
Shortly after Geoff Cole joined the Navy as a seaman recruit in 2002, he found himself cooking for 3,500 sailors a day aboard the U.S.S. Belleau Wood during Operation Enduring Freedom. Despite taking a brief interest in food while working at a Florida restaurant prior to enlisting, he wasn’t wowed by slinging mass meals on a ship.
“I was making omelets for hours and didn’t really like it,” he recalls. “I really wanted to be a pilot.”
Yet during his nearly 13 years of service, the Navy had enrolled him into culinary schools within the U.S. to become a certified chef de cuisine, and Cole made the leap from sea cook to culinary specialist, catering exclusively to admirals on Gulfstream jets while trotting the globe.
Today, the 34-year-old veteran owns Admiral’s World Class Cuisine in San Carlos. The modernly appointed restaurant — replete with large, colorful paintings and a bar stocked with soju, craft beer and wine — is an offshoot to his well-established catering company, Admiral’s Experience.
Born in Miami after his parents emigrated to the U.S. from Jamaica, Cole grew up partly in Brooklyn before returning to Florida in his late teens.
His restaurant menu reflects both his heritage and Navy experience, revealing a compendium of dishes ranging from Jamaican jerk chicken with beans and coconut rice to shepherd’s pie, ratatouille, red Thai curry and “50 caliber” nachos with house-made tortilla chips.
There’s also a variety of sliders such as pulled pork sweetened addictively with pomegranate and brown sugar, as well as an avocado-ahi poke salad, which was among the many haute dishes Cole made for dignitaries in “small but doable” kitchens aboard the luxury jets.
“I’ve cooked not only for admirals, but for senators and congressmen traveling with them on tours around the Pacific, Europe and Africa,” he said.
Though it all, he visited 37 countries, oftentimes immersing himself in their markets and hotel kitchens to advance his culinary knowledge.
The shrimp farfalle pasta in creamy Parmesan sauce on his restaurant menu, for example, beckons to time he spent in Sicily.
While developing considerable interest in the culinary world, Cole concurrently earned a master’s degree in supply chain management through the Navy. The tipping point for deciding to remain on the path as a chef, however, came in 2012 when an admiral urged him to continue building upon his culinary career.
“He sat me down and told me I have a special talent for cooking. So I decided to push ahead.”
Cole later led the Navy team in the cooking competition known as Boiling Points, which was held in 2014 at the Del Mar Fairgrounds and engaged all branches of the armed forces. The contest required the use of duck and star fruit.
Cole and his teammates won silver honors for their duck-stuffed duck and habanero sauce using the exotic fruit.
The kicky sauce appears on the restaurant’s chicken lollipops, although it’s made here with citrus instead.
After leaving the Navy in 2015, Cole launched the Admiral’s Experience catering company from a Mira Mesa facility he eventually outgrew.
He moved it to San Carlos, into the space previously occupied by The Fish Merchant while also introducing the restaurant, which is open for dinner only from 4 to 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday. (He offers active military personnel a free appetizer with their first drink purchase on Mondays and 15 percent off the total bill any day of operation.)
In addition, through a government contract the kitchen cranks out 100 boxed lunches every weekday for new service members passing through the Military Entrance Processing Station in Kearny Mesa.
It’s a job that enlists the help of his mother, who also makes the flavorful jerk sauce for the restaurant and catering orders.
Cole is a single father of three children and resides in Mission Valley. When looking back at the evolution of his career, he feels the timing was right for methodically securing his niche in the culinary field.
“Just as the Food Network started to explode back then, it became cool to be a chef.”
Admiral’s World Class Cuisine and Admiral’s Experience is located at 7407 Jackson Drive. For more information, call 619-800-3860 or visit admiralsexperience.com.
—Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his career as a local writer more than two decades ago as a staff writer for the former San Diego Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.