Dee Nguyen of Break of Dawn, Part 1
Photo by Kimberly Valenzuela
Food critics don't always agree on things, but ask any of your Stick a Fork In It bloggers where the best breakfast in OC is, and you'll get the same answer from all of us: Break of Dawn, a stunning hidden gem in a freeway-adjacent plaza next to the Laguna Hills Mall.
Chef Dee Nguyen was executive sous chef at the Ritz-Carlton, and left to start this breakfast-and-lunch-only cafe, which is beloved of food critics both professional and amateur, not to mention pretty much anyone who eats there. It's a casual place, a place where people eat outside and chat while eating the insanely good food (which is a mix of Vietnamese, French, some Hawaiian even) and sipping cups of the best cà phê sữa south of Little Saigon.
As part of our expanded chef interview series, we sent the chef a laundry list of questions. Not only did he answer us, he sent along a recipe for braised eggs with a farmers' market's worth of vegetables which we'll publish on Thursday. Also, say goodbye to the Food Network question: It is officially being retired after this week.
What's the one dish you cook that most represents you?
DN: Rice and fish, simple and healthy.
SAFII: What was the last meal you had at home?
DN: Steamed rice with stewed tuna head and belly in a tomato sauce.
SAFII: Your favorite restaurant (other than yours)?
DN: Eva's Caribbean Kitchen in Laguna Beach, a cozy place that takes you away from your daily grind. Of course, the delicious drinks help.
SAFII: Fast food guilty pleasure?
DN: El Pollo Campero, crispy battered chicken skin with South American seasoning.
SAFII: Complete this sentence: I would like to [verb] [Food Network star] with [noun]. (for example: "I would like to BEAT BOBBY FLAY with A STALE BAGUETTE." or "I would like to SHOWER GIADA DE LAURENTIIS with FLOWERS").
DN: I would love to grub down with Anthony Bourdain.
SAFII: Last meal of your life, what would it be?
DN: Just a simple bowl of steamed rice and anything that accompanies it is fine.
SAFII: Items you always have in your refrigerator?
DN: Hot sauce, condensed milk and OJ.
SAFII: Your most indispensable kitchen tool or appliance?
DN: My first ten-dollar knife that jumped start my passion for cooking.
SAFII: I ate your smoked salmon plate a month or so ago and I've got to know: Where on Earth did you learn to poach eggs like that?
DN: There are at least five things one needs to balance for the poached egg: heat, salt, vinegar, water and the pot.
SAFII: What's missing from the OC food scene?
DN: A Spam restaurant.
SAFII: Is there a food trend you'd like to see die?
DN: Molecular gastronomy: The result does not reflect the money and time invested.
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