On the Line: Chris Grodach of The Corner, Part One
Photo by LP Hastings
Chris warned me from the get go that he'd been reading up on our interviews. The man knew what everybody else was already saying, and he informed us that he put some thought into his answers. No pressure, man. We just want you to speak your mind. Tell us how you really feel. . . . and he did.
Your earliest food memory:
It's not your typical one, but it's truly my first food memory. It must have been kindergarten or first grade. I was eating spaghetti in the cafeteria; there was a large orange chunk on top of the spaghetti that I thought was a canned peach. I ate it and it was cheese; it freaked me out. Cheese that looks like a peach is not desirable. From that day on I was always the only little kid that didn't like spaghetti.
Favorite meal growing up:
My dad's meatloaf and mashed potatoes. I could never understand how he got the hard boiled egg in the middle.
Banana pudding from Magnolia Cafe. It's nothing like traditional pudding, and it's amazing. I don't normally like banana pudding, and they used ladyfingers in it, making the texture light and airy.
Most undervalued ingredient:
Paprika. We use it right alongside salt and pepper in a lot of our dishes, like our salsa.
We heard you worked in some high-end establishments. Tell us about some of the differences in being your own boss.
When I'm working for someone else I'm trying to read their mind to exceed whatever their expectations of me may be. Now I can just focus on making my guests and staff happy. This is truly much more challenging, but it's what feels most natural for me.
I read somewhere brunch is relatively new.
We just started serving brunch on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. I'm actually launching an overhaul of our brunch menu very soon. We'll have more egg dishes, similar to our Mother's Day brunch [Editor's Note: Maybe even now, but call ahead to check.].
How would you describe the ambiance?
When I started out, I wanted something very clean and simple that did not make a huge statement. The truth is I'm not very happy with it. We are currently working on a major change that will add more of an Americana, beachy, vintage feel.
Cuinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
Potential. Large chains have always dominated Orange County restaurants. A lot of people here just don't want to eat at primarily chain restaurants anymore, and there are a lot of good, new restaurants coming up. I think over the next ten years we'll see a huge shift in that direction in Orange County.
What fast food do you admit to eating?
I was once asked in a similar interview what my guilty pleasure was, and my answer was, "Fast food, all of it." Now, Del Taco is the only place open late enough to bring back the Jalapeno rings.
What is your beverage of choice, and where do you get it?
It's always changing. Right now it's a gin gimlet on the rocks. The Hungry Cat in Hollywood makes the best gimlets.
We hear your cocktails are popular.
The are. It was definitely something I wanted The Corner to be known for. I try to keep it very simple. We use all fresh ingredients and don't put too many in a cocktail. Really just one or two flavors paired with the spirit. A good pour in the proper size glass is also very important. There's a trend towards smaller pours in smaller glasses. I don't think guests really want that.
One food you can't live without:
Cheese. People love to say bacon makes everything better. So does cheese.
Where was your most recent meal? What did you have?
My girlfriend and I ate at Sol Cocina in Newport last night. We had the queso fundido, tacos and margaritas. The Vampiro taco is one of my favorites on their menu. It's a taco and quesadilla in one.
Best culinary tip for the home cook:
It doesn't need to cook for as long as you think. Most home cooks cook things way too long, and the food dries out or gets mushy. The key to cooking a turkey is to not overcook it. The same goes for vegetables.
What's the deal with the fries? Folks can't stop talking about them.
I set myself out to make a fry that stays crispy. We call them 48-hour fries since it's a two day process. First, we soak them in water overnight. Next, they are slow poached in saltwater until tender. They cool in the pot until we can touch them, are individually lined on sheet trays, and then dried in the walk-in near the fans.
After that we freeze them (they are so soft at this point they would crumble in our hands). Then they are fried to order. The result is crispy on the outside and like a mashed potato in the center.
What do you think of people who take photographs of their food?
I think it's all about people showing other people their lives. Most pictures go onto Facebook, Yelp or Instagram so people can share it with their friends. Before those things existed, it was just Asian tourists that took pictures of their food, and I thought that was very cool.
Thomas Keller. His first cookbook shaped what we're doing today more than people realize. He impacted how we make basics like veal stock and also started the movement of doing fun twists on classic and familiar dishes.
Your location is pretty random. How did you decide on it?
There are a lot of business decisions that go into picking a location, and also timing. I don't want to have a restaurant that needs to do high volume to survive because somewhere along the way it will lose its soul in chasing the numbers. There's nothing like us in Huntington Beach, and we've gotten major support from the locals and nearby cities. Just like Field of Dreams, "If you build it, they will come."
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten:
My girlfriend ate at this small Japanese restaurant in Westwood - Wakasan, with a Japanese friend of hers who did all the ordering, and she loved it. When we went back together we decided to order the Omakase both because a lot of the menu was in Japanese and we wanted to have the "real" experience. It was about seven courses, and I had had none of it before. The weirdest dish they called seaweed angel hair with vinegar. It was thin, web-like seaweed in a slimy vinegar-like liquid. When you picked it up with the chopsticks, the slime followed from the bowl to your mouth. The flavor wasn't bad if you could get over the rest.
Favorite places to eat (besides your own):
I already mentioned The Hungry Cat in Hollywood. Also Malo in Silverlake or Mas Malo in downtown LA, and we're regulars at Avila's El Ranchito in Costa Mesa, too.
One of our favorites used to be Orris in West LA. We heard that Chef Shiro changed the concept to a Japanese spaghetti house, so we're interested in giving it a try. His food is very fresh and clean, with a variety of twists on flavor.
You're making breakfast. What are you having?
Love the All-American breakfast: bacon and/or sausage with over easy eggs, potatoes and toast.
Weirdest customer request (and did you do it):
They had had their mouth wired shut and asked us to puree a porcini and lobster risotto. Yes, I did it, but I wouldn't have eaten it even if my mouth was wired shut.
In case you were wondering.
Photo by LP Hastings
Visit The Corner at 8961 Adams Ave, Huntington Beach, (714) 968-6800; www.thecornerhb.com.
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