Today, we continue our Q&A with Arturo Briones, the executive chef at Wildfish in Newport Beach.
If you missed the first part, click here to read it. And stay tuned tomorrow for a recipe.
What show would you pitch to the Food Network?
Crazy Dishes You Never Tried Before, with Chef Arturo. I like the idea of mixing up different ethnic foods and creating something new.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten:
Fried bat in Thailand and armadillo and monkey in Mexico.
You're making an omelet. What's in it?
Mushrooms, chorizo, onions, tomatoes, and Cheddar or Jack cheese, all covered with salsa verde.
You're at the market. What do you buy two of?
Desserts! I have a huge sweet tooth. I love cookies, cakes and chocolates.
Weirdest customer request:
We get all sorts of special requests; none of them are weird to me. I want people to eat what they like.
Favorite OC restaurant(s) other than your own:
Tabu in Laguna Beach is always fantastic.
Hardest lesson you've learned:
I'm always learning. In this business, you have to be adaptable to different situations and different people. Instead of the hardest lesson, I'd say the most important lesson I've learned is to be able to keep my focus and perform my job no matter what is thrown my way.
What would your last meal on Earth be?
I would have a feast of my favorite foods: mole con pollo, pizza with jalepenos and mushrooms, linguini with white sauce and shellfish, and orange-peel chicken and shrimp. And for dessert: orange souffle, strawberry cheesecake, fruit crepes, chocolate cake and lots of ice cream!
Who's your hero? Culinary or otherwise?
My dad and my mom. They always told me that no matter what you do, whether you're an architect, a dishwasher or you're washing toilets, be the best at what you do.
What cuisine that you are unfamiliar with would you want to learn more about and why?
I want to learn more about Asian food. I love to eat it, but there's something about Asian cooking that is so mysterious and exciting to me.
Wildfish is known for having one of the better, if also one of the most generous, happy hours in Orange County, with everything from a Japanese Ishiyaki dish to a massive dish of calamari. Do you ever worry that it's cutting into the rest of the business?
We don't worry that the happy hour is infringing on the dining experience. The intent of the design of the restaurant is for the energy of the bar to spread throughout the restaurant.
Tell us a little about your previous life as an architect.
I got my architect degree from Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico in 1989. I worked for five years as an architect on all kinds of government projects such as bridges and freeways, apartment complexes, and schools. It was really satisfying to see your ideas get created in a large-scale, tangible way.
What kind of food or dish do you and your family eat at home more than any other?
Mostly Mexican. Chile relleno, milanesas, moles and pork in salsa verde are some of our favorites at home.
You are a native of Mexico City. Where would you go in Orange County when you really want authentic food from the D.F.?
El Gallo Giro in Santa Ana makes great carnitas and menudo. Casa Oaxaca, also in Santa Ana, has wonderful moles. La Casa de Isabel in Costa Mesa has great authentic sopes, pambazos and quesadillas.
Of all the restaurants you've worked for over the years, what have you learned about the business that you wish you knew when you first started?
I wish I knew back then that when you work hard and keep the integrity of your work strong, things will always be okay. When I was younger, I didn't have the trust in myself that I have today, and that made it harder.
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What dish would you tell Wildfish Seafood Grille newcomers to try first?
We have so many great items, but I think our tuna tartare expresses our culinary philosophy: It's fresh, simply prepared and very flavorful.
What would you be doing if you weren't in this business?
A writer. I've been writing a book about my experiences in Mexico and the United States. I just like to be able to express my ideas; I did that in architecture, and I do that with my cooking. Writing is another way to do that.
What advice do you have for those who might be thinking about starting a career in food?
My son, Arturo Jr., is in culinary school and wants to be a chef. He also works in my Wildfish kitchen. I always tell him, "You can't just show up and cook and follow directions. You have to put your heart and soul into your cooking. Study, learn, practice and have a respect and a love for what you do. This is the key to success."
What do you see yourself doing in five years? In 10 years?
I want to continue in this career and focus on being a good example for my younger chefs. I want to teach them how to broaden their vision for their futures because I have learned that success comes with hard work, passion and high standards. In 10 years, I hope to have written a book or two and share my experiences. I've also entertained the idea of opening my own restaurants, both here and in Mexico.