On the Line: Chris Sarkissian of Medii Kitchen, Part One
Photo by Josue Rivas
Chris Sarkissian is best-known for a chain of pizza joints called Pepz. Learning about his new venture with Medii Kitchen, we realize this wasn't a cautious step forward, but more of a well-educated step back.
Your earliest food memory:
My mother's late-night, Lebanese-style feast of sojouk (Armenian dried sausage), grilled cheese (what we now call the Medii grilled cheese) and mamounia (a sweet, creamy Lebanese hot cereal).
How did the jump from pizza to shawerma happen?
Funny you ask that because the jump was from shawerma to pizza! My first restaurant that I partnered in my late teens/early 20s was a Middle Eastern restaurant in Anaheim called Al Khayam. This is where I learned most of everything I know about this cuisine, working side by side with family--my mother and my aunt.
In my mid-20s, I sold the business and started Pepz with my brother. After opening six restaurants and taking on the corporate role of a small chain, I decided I would get back to my roots and get back in the kitchen, challenging myself at Medii Kitchen.
Favorite meal growing up:
Believe it or not, Tony Roma's original baby-back ribs.
Your best recent food find:
R&D Kitchen in Newport Beach and its French dip sandwich.
What do you recommend for first-timers to Medii Kitchen?
It's hard for me to just pick one thing for people to try because I lost so much sleep putting this menu together. I think every dish or appetizer is amazing. For a first-timer, I would probably pick the chicken kebab.
What is your beverage of choice?
The Medii pomiinade, our own special concoction. It's a blend of pink lemonade and pomegranate juice--very refreshing. Chocolate milk is second runner-up: Nestlé Quik and some cold milk, and I'm set.
Most undervalued ingredient:
I think fresh mint adds such great flavor to a dish, whether raw or cooked.
Isn't halloumi cheese difficult to melt for your grilled cheese?
Absolutely! You are correct: It is difficult to melt, but I use this press that I found in my mother's kitchen, which had been imported from the Middle East, called a suriyeh. This allows me to press the bread and not burn it and to raise the temperature to extreme heights to melt the cheese as if it were on a grill.
One food you can't live without:
I love hamburgers. It's my comfort food. So versatile. Yeah, I can't give up my hamburgers.
Where was your most recent meal?
I just had some Thai food right before I started this questionnaire. I had some cashew beef, spicy Thai rice, garlic vegetable sauté and some delicious yellow curry.
Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Use only fresh ingredients. Stay away from the frozen stuff.
You mentioned being active in the community.
I am extremely active in the community, both with my personal life and through my restaurants. I sit on a board for Anaheim Business Cares with local business officials. I fund-raise and donate monetarily to all local Pop Warners, Little Leagues, high schools and middle schools. I work actively to provide a community hub for parents, children and families to gather. I support local nonprofit organizations, and I have been named Humanitarian of the Year and recognized by the mayor of Anaheim on behalf of 350,000 people for my selfless efforts as an entrepreneur and restauranteur.
Tell us about the challenges in owning a pizza chain and a full-service establishment. Marketing? Training? Cost controls?
Actually, the work and sacrifice that goes in to both of these establishments are just about the same. They both take a lot of sacrifice and dedication. They take a lot of thought, preparation and execution. Marketing, training and cost controls have become a little easier in opening Medii Kitchen, having had Pepz pave the avenues of these three aspects of the business over the past 10 years.
We've spent many years on marketing, research, developing training programs and working with food-distribution companies to help control our costs. We have learned to import some of our own products, as well as cut out the middle man from manufacturers to control and cut back costs.
My favorite chef is a guy named Emmanuel Concas at Mercato Trattoria in New York City. He happens to be a well-decorated, four-star Michelin chef. He is actually my best friend, who I can call on at any moment and ask for advice or suggestions--pretty much anything necessary in this industry. His culinary expertise has played a big role in inspiring my vision of Medii Kitchen.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten:
This is a difficult question for me to answer because I don't find anything really strange to eat. Having been well-traveled and exposed to diverse cultures, I guess I have a different perspective on eats. That said, could it be the spleen, tongue or brain that my mother cooked as a child? Or the horse meat I ate in Italy, or the kangaroo pot pie at Harry's Hot Dogs in Sydney, Australia? Or maybe the shark fin I ate at my friend's house?
Favorite places to eat (besides your own):
I'm all about street tacos. I find myself at hole-in-the-wall taquerías throughout Orange County. Love In-N-Out, Ruth's Chriss, Mr. Chow, to mention a few. I dine out a lot.
We gotta know your inspiration for our favorite pastrami pizza.
I can't take this one away from my brother Raffi, who has played the yin to my yang in the process of developing these menus. Raffi is in love with the pastrami sandwich from the Hat. So when it was time to design pizzas for the Pepz menu, he decided this was his top pick. I know it sounds odd, but it's something you just have to try. We've been doing this pizza for more than 12 years. We know other mom-and-pop chains are doing this style of pizza, but our customers know this belongs to us.
Weirdest customer request (and did you do it?):
The weirdest question I can recall is when I was asked to stuff a pizza with layers upon layers of anchovies, minus the cheese, topped with toppings and more anchovies. Of course, I did it. Who am I to judge what makes a customer's palate happy?
What's for dessert?
Chocolate souffle. Any sort of chocolate cake with a serving of ice cream. Although the bread pudding at The RANCH in Anaheim last night was pretty amazing.
Is there a dish that you'd like to learn how to make?
I would love to learn the art of sushi.
Medii Kitchen is located at 116 S. Fairmont Blvd., Anaheim Hills, (714) 974-4633.
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