I kick off On the Line 2017 along Pacific Coast Highway in Laguna Beach. Chef Arthur Ortiz is one example of a trend I recently realized. Sometimes, a restaurant needs time to find its stride. In more than one instance, though, I'm finding it takes a new chef to make the adjustments needed for an establishment to really shine.
As someone with extensive experience in training others, what are the most important things you could teach a dining room manager and kitchen manager?
That the restaurant business is about human beings. Have patience with progress. Have fun with everyday operations. And "lazy" loses in this industry.
What do you recommend for first-timers?
I always go for the "All In Family Style Platter". It's a proper tour of our BBQ skills and sides. I actually witnessed one person take it down solo. It probably helped that he was a pro football player! Crazy because it feeds four perfectly!
One food you can't live without:
Steamed rice. It always reminds me of my family, and that is what keeps me happy.
What is your beverage of choice, and where do you get it?
Whiskey from Black Knight in Costa Mesa.
Most undervalued ingredient:
Having fun is the most important ingredient in our kitchen, and this comes from working in many kitchens that truly undervalued it. All the ingredients are valued equally in our kitchen, but having fun is mandated in our kitchen.
What have you updated on the menu since starting at Skyloft? Give us one example on the breakfast and lunch menus.
I've changed the menus from top to bottom. For breakfast, I've added unique items such as our Loco Okimoto and The Climb Over (slow cooked ribs with fried eggs). For lunch, we now offer $10.00 lunch combos with a mix and match fare for locals and visitors. I've developed a more extensive (and tastier, I might add) menu of smoked meats, poultry and fish. Our All In Family Style Platter is one of our most popular items with a full rack of spare ribs, herb-roasted half chicken, seven ounces of really tender smoked brisket and a bunch of sides (mashed potatoes, mac 'n cheese, coleslaw and freshly made cornbread) that would put the Colonel at Kentucky Fried to shame.
What were the advantages/disadvantages to working with a corporate restaurant group like Yard House?
Advantages: Made me strive to be operationally sound. And the traveling helped me connect people to the food they love from state to state.
Disadvantage: I can't think of one; I love being on the go!
Best culinary tip for the home cook:
When trying something new, don't get upset with yourself until you've made it more than 13 times. Why 13? Because if you don't nail it the first couple times you need to practice a bit more. By the 10th time, you should be working on the finesse of the recipe and its plating. If you can't get it down by the 13th time, you should take up deep sea diving instead.
Favorite places to eat
Anjin in Costa Mesa. Javier's in Crystal Cove. And my sushi spot that I do not want to disclose; it's busy enough already!
You're making breakfast; what are you having?
I will be making my way over to Original Pancake House in Huntington Beach, and I'm getting the Kosher salami omelet, American fried potatoes with a side of hollandaise sauce and two English muffins.
When you're not in the restaurant, what are you doing in your free time?
Most likely at another restaurant. Research and reconnaissance. I go in disguise (laughs).
Hardest lesson you've learned:
As a chef in charge of your kitchen, the work day never ends and it's always started before you wake up. But that's what gives me juice!
What are you allowed to tell us about the secret menu?
What are you talking about? What menu (It's so yummy, by the way.)?
Where did you grow up, and where do you call home?
Born in Toronto, moved to Glendora, California from 6th grade through high school. Moved back to Toronto; culinary at George Brown University there. Then Art Institute to further my culinary in Los Angeles. Then quickly hopped on with Costa Mesa Yard House at 22 years-old. And I was on-the-go again, which will make up 11 years of my life— Denver, Chicago, Kansas, Las Vegas and more than a couple different SoCal cities. I would stay an average of nine months at a time at each location, or even return back to the same locations. Always on-the-go, meeting new people, eating what a city is proud about, experiencing state-to-state culture. Priceless, really.
I guess I grew up everywhere. Costa Mesa is where the journey began, and has always been home base after all my travels.
What's your favorite childhood memory?
Having no worries, playing Super Nintendo and playing basketball with my friends til the lights were out.
Favorite meal growing up:
I love nothing more than food, so I loved my Mom's traditional Filipino-style breakfast, which can be eaten all day. Also, eating dim sum with my grandfather, and a #1 at In-N-Out with extra spread, extra tomatoes and regular onions with Animal Fries. I've spent YEARS perfecting my burger (now called The Burger) as a nod of adoration to all the #1s in my life.
Your best recent food find:
Chef Matt from Sapphire in Laguna. He is doing some creative plates over there, incorporating ideas from all over the world!
Last thing you looked up online:
Modern Times Brewery. I'm getting ready for our monthly beer dinner, and the crafting of our six-course pairing with their beers has as much to do with the energy and vibe of Modern Times as a whole as it is about complimentary tastes.
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Tell us something most people don't know about you.
I can't because then they would know. What fun is that?
Do you have any skills that have nothing to do with food?
Teaching my sous chef how to play basketball.
What would you like to be doing if you weren't in the industry?
I'd be a professional poker player.
Skyloft is located at 422 South Coast Highway in Laguna Beach, (949) 715-1550; www.skyloftoc.com.