On the Line: Austin Lee of Itriya Cafe, Part Two
Photo by Mary Pastrana
Austin manages to bring food into the non-food portion of our interview, but what can you do? At least he taught us another combination to order at In-n-Out. This jack of all trades keeps us interested with anecdotes that ultimately lead back to great cuisine. On a completely unrelated note, Lee also made a point of mentioning that just because he's busy doesn't mean he wouldn't make time for a girlfriend [I'm talking to you, girl he's courting.].
Read our interview with Austin Lee of Itriya Cafe, Part One.
And now, on to Part Two...
When you're not in the kitchen cooking, what are you doing?
Playing basketball, working out, drinking with the buddies, checking out different restaurants, and just doing anything out of the ordinary.
Last song playing on your radio/smart phone/iPod:
Chicago - If You Leave Me Now.
I was born in Korea, and grew up in Beverly Hills. A true story of "Rice to Riches".
Let's talk about your cultural background and upbringing.
I grew up with two of my best friends, who were Italian and Brazilian. Having spent so much time at their houses, I practically grew up with Korean, Italian and Brazilian cuisines.
Hardest lesson you've learned?
It was for a catering event, where I forgot to pack pots and pans. It was for a TV show for about 150 people. Trying to cook without pots and pans is rather difficult, but somehow I pulled it through, but now I know to always check and double check.
What's your favorite childhood memory?
Discovering In-N-Out for the first time after coming to America. I have the bread toasted with mustard, caramelizing it. And chopped yellow peppers. Makes it easier when driving.
Favorite Halloween costume:
I have to say breakdancing as Spongebob in the middle of the dance floor at a college party we crashed while I was still in high school was one of the highlights of my life. [Editor's Note: Hey Austin! Why didn't you bust a move at the karaoke bar with "Red Pants"?!? Sorry, we digress.]
What were you up to five years ago?
I had come out of the Marine Corps, and I was jumping around from job to job, and then somehow (by pure luck) I ended up working in the kitchen.
I have to say Valentines Day is my favorite. It's the day a lot of chefs push themselves to create an elaborate menu for all those couples that will be dining out. It's interesting to see how chefs translate the emotion of love into food.
What makes you laugh?
I'm naturally a happy person. I love joking around with my coworkers, friends and in any company.
Last book you read or movie watched:
The current book I'm reading is called Ratios. It's a concept that as long as you have the ratio of base ingredients, then one can cook by substituting similar ingredients without having to use an exact recipe. The last movie I saw was "The Lucky One". I'm not a movie person, but as cheesy as it sounds, nevertheless, it was a great date movie.
When you use the internet, what's on your homepage?
www.seriouseats.com. It's a food blog page that I found to be quite educating and interesting; like Alton Brown meets Cooks Illustrated. Plus, it's a lot more understandable for an average person.
Last thing you looked up/searched online:
Burgers. I'm all about burgers and how different places will serve it differently and their pros and cons. I think the hamburger trend is kind of dying, though. People aren't focusing enough on the beef and the bread. They're too crazy piling on toppings when they should be grinding their own beef.
Do you have any skills that are non-food related?
I'm a jack of all trades, but master of none. I play the cello, sketch, play different sports, along with many other things.
What would you be doing if you weren't in this business?
Who knows? I've had many different jobs and skills, but I was born to cook. I've never looked back.
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