Ladies' month at On the Line continues with Iliana Chiarini. If you frequent Cafe Chiarini, she has probably greeted you by name. I was thrown for a loop by her humor the first time, her warm greeting (as though I were family) the next. Chiarini's candor is admirable, especially when we asked her to elaborate on the last question. Iliana complements Judy Fleenor's kitchen wisdom nicely.
Hardest lesson you've learned:
Never to assume!
What would your last meal on Earth be?
Feta cheese sprinkled with extra-virgin, Greek olive oil and oregano, a thick slice of freshly baked bread, steamed broccoli, and fresh fish from the Mediterranean Sea.
Who's your hero, culinary or otherwise?
Growing up, I looked up to my grandmother, who had 13 children; and although she was faced with many hardships and challenges, she never lost her tenderness and her sweetness. The older I get, I find myself turning to her words of folk wisdom very often. The ones that I try to live by are "Treat others the way you wish to be treated."
Tell us about your food-service-industry background.
I have no background in the food-service industry. Do 23 years of cooking at home for my family count at all? [Editor's note: YES!]
Any advice on where to park on Tuesdays (street-cleaning day)?
There is a parking structure across the street from our café that our guests use on Tuesdays.
Tell us about the artwork on display.
We are displaying prints of photographs taken in Tuscany by Mr. Michael Forbes. We are fond of introducing different artists, whose work is displayed in our art café for one month.
We noticed a table overlooking the rest of the dining area. Is that reserved?
That table has become a favorite of our guests,
and it is available to all. [Editor's note: She's kidding, really. Why did I ask that? Now I'll never get to sit there. . . .]
What's in the smoker, located toward the back of the garden patio?
We use the smoker for our barbecue pork and our tri tip.
What dish would you tell newcomers to Cafe Chiarini to try first?
I find this a rather challenging question to answer. I will recommend the tri tip sandwich for the gentlemen, and the tuna salad for the ladies. Our soups "speak" to everyone: boys and girls, young and old.
What would you be doing if you weren't in this business?
I would certainly be doing something that would give me the pleasure and the opportunity to meet as many new people as possible.
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What advice do you have for those who might be thinking about a career in food service?
To be polite, open-hearted and to command the LANGUAGE OF KINDNESS!
What do you see yourself doing in five years? Ten years?
In Greece, where I was born and raised, we believe that when mortals are planning, God is "laughing." . . . God willing, I would love to be able to enjoy my family and my friends and to visit as many lands as possible. Naturally, I would be grateful if the guests who come to our café would continue to include us in their lives.
Cafe Chiarini is located at 1002 W. Third St., Santa Ana, (714) 277-4495. Open Mon.-Fri., 6 a.m.-4 p.m. Their Facebook page has updated information.