Today we continue our Q&A with Jinan Montecristo of Les Amis in Fullerton, a Lebanese restaurant she, her husband and her parents co-own together and have built up a faithful following of toum-loving diners.
Stay tuned for a recipe from their kitchen soon.
If you missed the first part, click here.
What show would you pitch to the Food Network?
Not sure what the name would be but I think a show introducing the Americas to the rest of the world culinarily speaking would be a grand idea. I don't mean, like picking a plant and talking about it and it's versatility for an hour, but rather how the natives eat it, in what dishes, health benefits of it, why it grows there and nowhere else, and also what we could use as a substitute in our country to make the dishes it's used in. If we do have that ingredient here, maybe, give out a new recipes on how to cook it, what other flavors or ingredients it complements.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten:
Culturally, we eat very many strange things by Western standards. I guess it would be raw liver. What do you think?
You're making an omelet. What's in it?
My omelet would include, soujouk (armenian beef sausage), tomatoes, parsley, onion, a dash of garlic (of course), and Cayenne pepper.
You're at the market. What do you buy two of?
Weirdest customer request:
There are a few, let's see: Falafel sandwich with chicken; hummus and toum (the garlic spread) mixed. Tried both but didn't like either. Those two are weirdest I suppose.
Favorite OC restaurant(s) other than your own:
Bistango, French 75 (love the ambiance), 230 Forest. I must tell you though I have not been out in over a year trying to put together Les Amis, I am sure I have skipped a few favorites and might probably find some new ones to add to the list.
Hardest lesson you've learned:
Procrastination is the enemy. I am still trying to learn not to procrastinate. I don't know what it is but I have been trying to learn this lesson for 39 years and still haven't aced the test.
What would the last meal on Earth be?
Moloukhieh I forget the name in English but Oh my God is it delicious, especially my mother's and grandmother's. Mom will make it for a special one day and I am sure we will have to add it to the menu at some point after that.
What cuisine that you are unfamiliar with would you want to learn more about and why?
I have a long road ahead of me learning, culinarily. There are so many cuisines I am not familiar with. Two things make me jealous: People speaking languages I can't and people knowing foods I don't know. I am interested in all foods as I am in learning about all cultures. Two cuisines I know most are Arabic, Thai, and American. That would actually make it three.
Why did you choose Downtown Fullerton to open your restaurant? Did you consider other locations?
Fullerton has been my home for the last almost 20 years. I love my town and it's people. Not to mention the convenience of not commuting. It was the perfect spot for us. When my father found the previous business in this spot on Craigslist ready to sell, he was the first caller. We went to see it that night and practically bought it the next day. I don't know, this spot seemed to belong to us.
What dish would you tell newcomers to try first?
It depends on the individual in front of me. If they are younger, I might recommend something less risky, like our chicken sandwich; if it's a person interested in exploring, I might recommend the kafta. If I have a mature person in front of me, I will definitely recommend the "Culture Special". What meal period also might determine my recommendation. The more I think about it though, it may even depend on my mood or what I feel like eating at the time. All these questions are making me hungry right now.
What is it like to work with your family?
The kitchen can get a bit tight at times but the truth is, my accomplishment would have been impossible without my family. I am blessed and am very thankful. For everything.
Your mother and you do the "culture specials" that change every day. It seems that it's the kind of food you guys would cook for yourselves. Is that accurate? What do you end up eating as a family at the end of the night?
Only my mother put the "culture specials" together. We may assist her with cutting or peeling or grinding; but only she will put all together. The "culture specials" are definitely what we, as a family, would eat for dinner at home, and we do eat it now--our early dinner is the "culture special".
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What were you doing before you opened Les Amis, that is, what's your background, culinary or otherwise?
Before Les Amis, I was doing a couple of things, I am a Realtor and had my office in my garage. I also have/had a concierge and event planning company called "VIVIR". Real Estate I still do on a much lower scale, Vivir has fallen by the way side in the shadow of Les Amis. When the time is right, I will revive it. My experience though, comes from 13 years, give or take, in hotels, front office and F & B.
What do you think is least understood among Americans about Lebanese food?
often I am asked how spicy the food is. I think a misconception is that our food is hot spicy when it's actually quite mild in that respect. On the other hand, spicy to us means flavorful, full of spice as opposed to hot.
What advice do you have for those that might be thinking about starting a restaurant or a family business like yours?
The most difficult job I have ever done in my life, besides giving birth, is opening Les Amis. Definitely do your research before taking a step forward, go to City Hall ask questions about the spot. Go to the Health Department, inquire there. Talk to IRS, understand your responsibilities to them. Get at least three quotes before employing companies or individuals. Plumbing, hoods, moving walls, menus, vendors, CC machines, equipment, and on and on and on........ the list literally doesn't end.
What do you see yourself doing in 5 years? 10 years?
Hmmm! In 5, I hope to have a couple more of ideas in full fruition. In 10 years, I will be turning 49.