Michael Mina began his culinary career at the age of 15, when he was hired as garde manger for a small French restaurant in his hometown. He also worked in the restaurant at the Seattle Space Needle before launching his formal culinary training at the CIA. As a Culinary Institute student, Chef Mina spent his weekends in New York City working for Charlie Palmer ’79 at the renowned Aureole. After earning his degree, he accepted a position with Chef George Morrone ’83 in the kitchen of the Hotel Bel Air in Los Angeles, where he had previously taken his CIA externship. Within six months, Chefs Mina and Morrone were developing the concept and menu for a high-end seafood restaurant in San Francisco. The result, Aqua, opened in 1991 to immediate acclaim. Beginning as chef de cuisine, Chef Mina quickly advanced to the executive chef position, which he held from 1993 to 2002. In addition to his duties at Aqua, he consulted with Charles Nob Hill in San Francisco, Aqua at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, and Pisces in Burlingame, CA. In 2001, Chef Mina expanded his culinary empire to include NOBHILL at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas and Aqua at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort and Spa in Dana Point, CA.
In December 2002, Chef Mina split from the Aqua Development Corp. and founded Mina Group. He remains the managing chef of Aqua at the Bellagio, and the Mina Group manages NOBHILL. In addition, Chef Mina recently opened Arcadia in San Jose, and the Mina Group has launched a seafood restaurant in the MGM.
His talents have been recognized by the foodservice industry with some of its most prestigious honors. He won two James Beard Awards—for Best California Chef in 2002 and Rising Star Chef in 1997—as well as the 1999 Robert Mondavi Culinary Award of Excellence. Under Chef Mina’s leadership, Aqua earned both the coveted Ivy Award from Restaurants & Institutions magazine and a four-star review from the San Francisco Chronicle in 1998.