On The Line: David Kesler of Bistro Bleu, Part One
Photo by Liz Monroy
When the establishment you've worked at for so long changes their focus, do you stay? In David Kesler's case, the answer was clear. He took the opportunity to cultivate a CaliFrenchian space of his own. Between a calming color scheme and his charming wife monitoring the dining room, Bistro Bleu presents a certain romanticism to its Anaheim neighborhood.
Your earliest food memory:
Making a birthday cake for Mom with my brother. I was seven, he was nine. At the time, my mom was a nurse at UCI, working the graveyard shift. Grandma usually watched us, and we would wake up after she left for work and make the cake so it would be waiting when she got home the next day.
Favorite meal growing up:
Grandma's corned beef and cabbage with lots of dill.
Grandma's Kitchen just down the street from our bistro. Despite the name, it is actually the best Mexican cuisine that I've had since I can remember. Especially the sauces. They started out doing catering.
Most undervalued ingredient:
Juniper berries. They are rarely used in the kitchens, but I have always liked their fragrance and flavor that they add to sauces, marinades, soups, etc. They even add an interesting dimension to hot tea.
Explain CaliFrenchian cuisine.
That is a word that I coined which is a conjunction of (Cali)forn(ian) and (French) cuisines. So we offer traditional French fare like escargots, Coq au vin and souffles, as well as items like Caesar salad, Angus hamburgers, steaks, seafood and pasta.
Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
Mexican cuisine. I love the little hole-in-the-wall and mom and pop places.
What fast food do you admit to eating?
Weinerschnitzel corn dogs and chili cheese dogs. They are conveniently located near the bistro.
What is your beverage of choice?
Jarritos mandarin flavor. When I first started going to taquerias, I tried them all.
How are you able to lower the prices in a French restaurant?
Being chef/owner, there is no costly salary for an executive chef. Also, I go to the market almost on a daily basis to buy the freshest produce at amazing prices.
Are there any misconceptions diners have about French food?
Yes. People instantly think of snails and super rich sauces. That is unapproachable. French food can be complex in its preparation and presentation, or it can be simple and straightforward. I prefer to keep it simple, affordable and casual.
One food you can't live without:
Artichokes barbecued with garlic butter.
Do a lot of people take advantage of your Express Lunch?
Yes, it's a good value, and I like people to know that they can have a good, sit-down served lunch in the same amount of time that they would spend at a Subway or other typical lunch places.
Where was your most recent meal?
Kenyan Cafe in Anaheim. Had samosas, nyama choma (a grilled lamb dish) and ugali (a sort of rice porridge).
Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Invest in good knives and keep them super sharp.
Joel Robuchon. I like his approach to French cooking and his unwavering high standards.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten:
Lamb brains from a Lebanese restaurant in Paris back in 2003. I was meeting a friend for a prix-fixe lunch that was under $20. The menu was written in Arabic with translation in French. They were blackened with Middle Eastern spices and served with harissa. It was so hot, I just couldn't believe it. We had it with fresh chickpeas and black radish salad. The brains were really gamey, which might explain why it was prepared the way that it was.
Favorite places to eat (besides your own):
My best friend's backyard barbecue. He doesn't compete, but he thinks he's the best (at least in Brea). He owns three barbecues: one for traditional charcoal, another only for mesquite, and the other he uses mesquite and incorporates wood chips with other flavors. He swears up and down that each one is like a cast iron skillet. When you season that skillet, you don't cook other things in it.
The one thing he usually lets me bring is dessert. They love the chocolate mousse I do. I've brought souffle a few times because it's easy to make and transports well. He barbecues everything, even the salad. He'll grill a whole head of lettuce-- kind of smoke it. Then he chops it up. My brother is also a barbecue fanatic. He lives in Colorado. It'll be snowing and he'll be using his barbecue.
You're making breakfast. What are you having?
Weirdest customer request (and did you do it?):
Escargot pizza. Yup.
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