Interviewing a duo of subjects is always more
challenging interesting for me. I see double the effort restaurants make when two personalities create the brand. It's a yin and yang when the pair differ, but something else altogether when they are more similar than not. Take a look for yourself.
What are your best-selling items? Ellen Chen & Mario Del Pero: Pork belly banh mi, pecan wood house smoked pastrami, and both our kale Caesar and Save Drake's Farm free range chicken and goat cheese salad.
Favorite meal growing up: Ellen: Chinese hot pot, similar to that of shabu shabu. It was a tradition for all family gatherings to serve this, and really evokes such great memories of sharing food with people you love. Mario: The sandwiches my dad would make with Sunday super leftovers.
Earliest food memory. Ellen: Same as above. Mario: Breast milk?
How did you decide on the name? Ellen: The concept was inspired by wine country. Napa Valley Farms didn't seem right, so when we were coming up with names, Mario threw out Mendocino (where he used to vacation as a kid). It's a beautiful, coastal farm/wine country. It seemed fitting to pay tribute to the region, since it's known for its support of the Slow Food movement and sustainable farming. Mario: I grew up visiting Mendocino County as a child. It was the first time I saw a community support local farms and artisans. It is also famous for being an unpretentious wine country.
You're making breakfast; what are you having? Ellen: I'm a traditionalist-- bacon and eggs. Mario: I'm magical with leftovers in the fridge and some eggs-- just made pizza eggs for my kids. Scrape the leftover pizza toppings off the dough and scramble with eggs. Toast the scraped dough and serve with the eggs.
Where was your most recent meal? Ellen: Last meal was é by José Andrés. It was an amazing culinary adventure. I posted the picture on Mendocino Farms' Instagram. It was a beautiful marriage of art and science served on a plate. Mario: José Andrés eight seat restaurant in the back of Jaleo in Vegas. I had edible sangria foam and then 20 more courses.
One food you can't live without: Ellen: Rice. Being Asian, it's something you eat with every meal, whether it's breakfast, lunch or dinner. Mario: Sandwiches. Is that a shameless plug?
Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best: Ellen: It's been amazing to see the transformation of the food scene in Orange County. The Anaheim Packing House, SoCo and the 17th Street area are all awesome! My favorite is Sidecar Doughnuts. Mario: Customers. Is that kissing up?
What is your beverage of choice? Ellen: Glass of Belle Glos Pinot Noir from Mastro's Ocean Club, or our house. Mario: Clark & Telephone Belle Glos Pinot Noir, or a mix of Puck's Orange and Vanilla cream sodas from our Mendo soda fountain.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: Ellen: Deep fried scorpion in Taiwan at the Night Markets. Mario: Dehydrated lizard-- true story. It was a dare on a golf course.
Favorite places to eat. Ellen: Love all of Josef Centeno's restaurants! Mario: Josef Centeno's Baco Mercat or Mario Alberto's Laurel Hardware.
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Strangest customer request (and did you do it?): Ellen: A totally deconstructed sandwich with each ingredient in a separate container. Mario: My friend texted me that her salad sucked. I asked what she got-- she said a build your own salad with pulled pork and pesto. I told her how gross that sounded and we both agreed she should order off our chef designed menu.
Is there anything you'd like to learn how to do/make? Ellen: I love homemade pasta and would love to learn how to make pasta with the perfect Bolognese sauce! Mario: I want to learn how to make wine-- 50% is passion and 50% is savings!
Best culinary tip for the home cook: Ellen: Marry a spouse that is a great cook. Mario has unbelievable culinary skills. Mario: Buy a great toaster oven and lose the microwave for heating.