Photo by Brian Feinzimer

On the Line: Winnona Tobey Of Saint Marc

As we draw closer to OC Weekly's Fresh Toast, the next restaurant participating is a place Edwin reviewed over a year ago. Anchoring one end of Pacific City, the crew at Saint Marc has a lot on their plate— whether it's bacon, cheese or controversy. This week's featured chef is Winnona Tobey, a woman who loved cooking at a young age and has high standards for her kitchen.

Favorite meal growing up:
Chicken and dumplings. A dumpling that I have yet to find a rival for in any restaurant. My mom would start the preparation for the dish with a whole chicken (usually one that was freshly butchered from our chicken farm). Creating a rich stock with all the flavors that we know are true to chicken soup. Fresh thyme, garlic, black pepper, onions, carrots, celery and every part of the chicken to make any house feel like an inviting place to gather with family and friends to share a meal. My mom would use this stock to create the hearty soup with the pulled chicken, fresh sweet corn, peas and bacon to make it complete. A true comfort dish that is still my go-to during cold winter months.

Most important quality you look for in a sous chef?
The most important quality I look for in a sous chef is passion and drive for the "craft" of cooking. If you don't have the passion for this industry, you will never keep up with the demand, hard work and long hours. Someone who can lead a team through passion and inspiration will become a great asset to the success of the business. And someone who understands and pays attention to the fundamentals of cooking, can help teach, hold standards and inspire others that are new to the industry.

How do you explain the Saint Marc concept to a first-time diner?
Saint Marc is a new restaurant concept that offers exceptional, nostalgic American cuisine in ambient SoCal comfort. We are a family-friendly and pet-friendly environment. All our beer is served in cans, our wine on draft and cocktails served to you in the iconic red Solo cup. The menu offers creations from our Bacon Bar, Pub, Cafe, Bakery and Cheese affinage, and ordering through iPads to allow on-demand ordering of what you want, when you want.

Let's talk more about how the iPads are part of the dining experience.
Our eTouch iPad ordering system is simply an added tool to give guests another option to view the menu with additional pictures and descriptions, as well as providing a quick and easy way to place orders at a "free flow" pace. The technology is not a replacement for our ambassador service, simply an additional tool to help steer your dining experience however you may choose to do so.

Indispensable tool in the kitchen besides a knife.
Tasting spoon. If myself and the team in the kitchen aren't tasting everything they make daily, then how can I feel confident selling it to a customer? The importance of balance, flavor and texture are truly the key steps in creating any dish. There is always that need to adjust the final seasoning/flavor even when using a recipe. Having a tasting spoon available at all time is essential.

Your best recent food find:
The fresh mandarins I just picked off the tree at my in-law's house in Phoenix while visiting last week. I brought back a case and have been juicing, eating and cooking with them all week. A true "cream-sicle". Homemade vanilla ice cream with mandarin juice. Mahi-mahi with mandarin coconut butter and a cilantro farro salad. Mandarin curd tart with graham shortbread and cream cheese mousse. I won't even list the amazing cocktails my husband has been making since using these delicious little gems.

This is the first US location for Saint Marc. Could you tell us about expansion plans? I thought I heard Irvine might be a possibility.
We are currently under negotiations with Westfield Century City.

Most popular items at Saint Marc:
Among the most popular items at Saint Marc are our signature bacon slices, bacon wrapped dates, bacon wrapped artichokes, the Nueskes bacon cinnamon roll (served on weekends for brunch only). Kobe chili cheese fries, the "Sun Devil" grilled cheese, and the "Sprouts & Snouts" (caramelized Brussels sprouts with pork belly and sunny side egg).

Is being photographed in front of photographs considered meta?
Is being photographed in front of photographs considered meta?
Photo by Brian Feinzimer

Favorite places to eat.
So far, the short time I've lived in Huntington Beach I have to say The Corner restaurant has never disappointed. Still on the hunt for more local places to add to my favorite list.

You're making breakfast; what are you having?
Two sunny side eggs, one thick slice of multigrain toast with butter, a slice of sharp cheddar cheese and a latte. I keep it simple. My husband, on the other hand, is the breakfast maker in our house, and he continues to surprise me with his talents.

What kinds of specials does Saint Marc have during the week?
Reverse Happy Hour: $5 red Solo cup cocktails from 11 a.m. - 4:20 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Moonshine Mondays: $5 Georgia moonshine cocktails.
Trash Canned Tuesday: $5 select canned beer.
Wine & Whiskey Wednesdays: $5 Old Forester Old Fashioned, $5 glasses of Saint Marc select wine on draft.
Twisted Thursday: $5 red Solo cup cocktails all day.
50% off ALL DAY on our chef's selected cheese boards Monday through Thursday.

What's this I hear about a bacon flight?
Yes, if you're a bacon lover, and we can be honest here, who doesn't love bacon? At Saint Marc we have a "bacon bar" where you can order any or all of our 11 different bacons "by the slice". Garlic Parmesan, Paprika, Peppered Country, Apple Pie, Bakers Double Smoked, Tenderbelly Maple, Tenderbelly Hapanero, BBQ, Zoe's Uncured, Cob Smoked and Coffee. If you're not into just eating bacon slices, try the bacon wrapped dates stuffed with cream cheese and glazed with Vermont maple syrup, or the bacon-wrapped marinated artichoke hearts with lemon tarragon aioli and Parmesan cheese. We offer a variety of BLT sandwiches as well to make sure every guest receives the ultimate bacon fix.

What's behind the swinging door?
You're on your own about the swinging door.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Connecticut. Lived all my childhood on the East Coast including New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia. From Virginia, I moved to Phoenix, Arizona at the age of 22. I had never been anywhere on the west side of the country, but was looking for a change, and Phoenix became my new home. I loved the Southwest, and have now made it clear across the country to the West Coast with this opportunity at Saint Marc.

What's your favorite childhood memory?
Warm summer evenings out by our lake, hanging out with my friends around the campfire.

What did you study in school, and what did you originally want to do as a career?
I studied culinary arts. Took a three-year apprenticeship with the American Culinary Federation, sponsored y Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz New York, a historic landmark. All my culinary classes were taken at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. I grew up cooking with my Mom for our large family, and spent my summers helping on the farm, growing and harvesting the crops. I have always enjoyed cooking, and even more the pastry element of the craft. Until taking this job with Saint Marc, I was Pastry Chef for the past 12 years of my career. It's been a fun year transitioning back into the savory world and blending more of my pastry experience into the hot kitchen.

Last thing you looked up online.
Where to buy reclaimed wood. Looking for wood so my husband can build me a new dining room table to entertain all our family and friends. I am currently working on the design, targeting to seat 14-18 people.

Tell us something most people don't know about you.
I grew up in an organized religious group that lives in somewhat of an isolated community., self-sustained with strong beliefs and practices. Living off the land and learning to make "most everything from scratch" taught me a lot of skills that I still use today in my everyday life.

Hardest lesson you've learned:
Creating a life for myself even when it required separating myself from the only people I knew and loved. Fast forward 15 years, and I have been nothing but blessed, and life has granted me so many opportunities and adventures.

What do you plan on serving at Fresh Toast?
Beignets and bacon! This is a brunch event, and we are highlighting some of our top-selling brunch favorites. Our lemon ricotta beignets and spicy habanero bacon are a perfect pairing of sweet and salty and are always a crowd-pleaser.

Saint Marc Pub-Cafe, Bakery & Cheese Affinage is located at 21058 Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach, (714) 374-1101;


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