Just hearing the name "Don the Beachcomber" conjures up mental images of a ramshackle tiki bar serving rum-laden drinks with entire fruit salads on sticks emerging from the rim of the cup, pupu platters full of egg rolls and potstickers, and a menu chock full of what 1950s America thought Chinese people ate: chop suey, chow mein and the like.
The original Don the Beachcomber restaurants (it was a chain), started by Donn Beach, are no more, but the legend lives on in Surfside, where Arthur and Delia Snyder took over the former Sam's Seafood and brought tikis, masks, daggers and Zombies (the drinks, not the undead) back to OC. Chef Delia graciously took time out from her new projects to answer our questions. Stay tuned tomorrow for more questions and Thursday for a recipe from the chef!
OC Weekly: What are six words to describe your food?
Delia Snyder: Inspiring, loving, comforting, and down-to-earth! That's been the Don the Beachcomber way since Donn Beach first opened the first one in Hollywood in the early '30s.
OCW: What are ten words to describe you?
DS: This one's hard to answer without sounding like I'm bragging. I may be too shy, but I suppose that would be one word--shy. I was raised to be humble and nice--basically live by the Golden Rule. I consider myself to be a hard worker, aspiring culinarian and, above all, understanding. Oh, and I'm a lover of food. Is that ten words?
OCW: What's your best recent food find?
DS: Pressed duck - from my kitchen, of course. I've been experimenting with various recipes and just love creating this dish.
OCW: What's the most undervalued ingredient?
DS: Baking soda. It's an extremely cost-effective meat tenderizer and can be used in every aspect of baking. Of course, when you eat too much, it helps your aching stomach and can be used in your laundry to take out any oil.
OCW: What are the rules of conduct in your kitchens?
DS: Constantly clean or go home.
OCW: Is there a food you detest?
DS: Any foods that are high in fat. Vegetable and olive oils are fine for me, but foods that are high in fats, especially from animals, are not appealing. I always cook with the leanest meats.
OCW: Is there a food you can't live without?
DS: Rice. No question about it.
OCW: Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
DS: Best legendary tropical, relaxing, easy going restaurant in Southern California, conveniently located in Huntington Beach! [wink]
OCW: What is your fast food guilty pleasure and why?
DS: I LOVE fried chicken, but I still haven't been able to enjoy it unless it is without skin. This breaks the rules of fried chicken, in general, but I still love it and the smell makes my mouth water.
OCW: What's the best culinary tip for the home cooks?
DS: Use the freshest ingredients possible. There are so many great farmer's markets in Orange County, but most local stores have great produce sections with organic, seasonal veggies.
OCW: What's your after-work hangout?
DS: My home, usually in the kitchen--the line between work and play is blurred, which is how I like it. That is a sure way to keep things fun!
OCW: If you could cook for one person, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
DS: Alive: my husband, Arthur Snyder, who I enjoy cooking for--and have enjoyed cooking for--the past 30 years we've been married. I can see the joy in his face with every bite and that's the best compliment a chef can receive. If I had to choose a person who is no longer with us, I would like to cook for Donn Beach, the founder of Don the Beachcomber. Donn cooked for me when I was much younger and I wish I could have done the same for him.
OCW: Who's your favorite celebrity chef?
DS: Mario Batali. He can take simple ingredients and create masterpieces. He is a chef who seems really down to earth with his cooking style--simple recipes that can be reproduced in your own kitchen.
OCW: Is there a celebrity chef you wish would just shut up?
DS: If I don't like someone I usually just change the channel or don't pay attention. Celebrity chefs are no different than any other celebrities; you can't like them all, but you have the freedom to pick and choose your favorites.
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OCW: What's next for you?
DS: Introducing the Chinese/Cantonese-style menu that was the basis for Don the Beachcomber's earliest menus decades ago. I've already introduced whole fried snapper, Donn's famous tomato beef and chop suey, and I'm going to be adding many other of the original dishes in the coming weeks. There's a pretty big demand for that right now and I'm excited to give rebirth to these specialties to fill that demand.
OCW: What's your proudest moment as a chef?
DS: Watching my guests enjoy my food, especially when they're not looking!