On the Line: Josef Lageder of the First Cabin Restaurant, Part Two
Photo by Meranda Carter
Did you know the First Cabin is open to the public? We did. But we weren't aware of the separate European breakfast and comfort-lunch menus. Nor did we realize just how much chef Josef Lageder digs the pig. How about the planning that goes into the month-long Oktoberfest menu? There's much to be learned in today's On the Line. (If this is your first trip here, we recommend you begin at the beginning.)
Hardest lesson you've learned:
Trust your instincts. Years ago, I was working in Atlanta, Georgia. We had a huge event with 500 people. It was a $1,000-per-person party and took months of planning. We worked 24 hours, nonstop, to prep the food and make it perfect. I got home at 4 a.m. I went to sleep but woke up at 7 a.m. For some reason, I felt like I should call someone in the kitchen to double-check the food in the refrigerator -- a huge refrigerator.
I just had this funny feeling. But I went back to sleep and arrived at 11 a.m. The temperature gauge had malfunctioned and froze the majority of the food. I had to have a separate team start all over, and we locked all the kitchen doors so no one could come in. It was wild, but we did it!
What would your last meal on Earth be?
Head to toe from a pig . . . braised pork belly, the feet and speck with rustic bread.
Who's your hero, culinary or otherwise?
Julia Child, without a doubt -- a class act who did so much for this country and made Europe approachable for the home cook. She helped United States cooks to understand and cook great classical European cuisine. She brought it to a new level.
Tell us about your food-service-industry background.
[Editor's note: The answer for this question was pulled from his bio and provided to us.] As a child, Lageder helped his mother in their kitchen, making potato gnocchi. He also traveled with his father to northern Italy, helping to harvest grapes at his uncle's vineyard. He began his apprenticeship at the age of 16 in Linz and Salzburg, and then spent three years at the acclaimed Hotel and Culinary School in Gmunden, Austria. At the age of 25, he moved to the United States, after working at five-star properties throughout Europe.
He worked for the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Corporation for many years as an executive chef. Nine years ago, he joined the Balboa Bay Club & Resort, heading up the property's three restaurants and lounges.
Where were you born and raised, and where do you currently reside?
I'm a native of Austria, and I currently reside in La Costa, Carlsbad and Newport Beach.
Do you have any restaurants that you go to on a regular basis, or are there ones you've been wanting to try?
The dining room of the Grand Del Mar, R + D Kitchen, and the Inn at Rancho Santa Fe. We want to try the new restaurant, Mozza, across the street.
Can you explain the reasoning behind having dual breakfast and lunch menus?
Our European breakfast includes all the cold cuts and cheeses and offers a European flair. All our management from Europe wanted a classic breakfast, and it's very successful. And it's unique versus other restaurants.
We do a comfort-food menu for lunch because people were asking for their favorites. The dishes are very popular . . . and not offered in other restaurants on a regular basis.
Do you see any challenges with specializing in resort vs. standard restaurant cuisine?
There are many more advantages to resort dining. We can buy the freshest and best products available, and we rotate the food constantly because of so many events here. Also, we have multiple restaurants. We offer this fine food to the hotel guests, so staying here, they can enjoy an extra glass of wine without worry. They can walk down the hall to Duke's for music, and then ride the elevator to their room. Our restaurant, the First Cabin, is also open to the public, and some people do not realize that.
Let's talk about Oktoberfest.
It is really a collaboration between Henry Schielein, who is from Bavaria (Munich) and our president; Dieter Hissin, who is German, from the Black Forest area, and is our assistant manager and director of food and beverage; Krisztian Karkus, who is from Budapest, Hungary, and is our sous chef; and myself. I am Austrian and lived close to the German border. It is always fun and exciting to do our home cooking right here. And there are some special beers brewed just for this celebration, so we import them right here. We want everything to be authentic, so all month in October, we offer this cuisine for lunch and dinner -- in addition to the regular menu, of course.
What dish would you tell newcomers to the First Cabin to try?
Everything is great, but the ahi tuna tartare [offered as an appetizer and an entrée] or the spice-wrapped Atlantic salmon with wasabi whipped potatoes and mangoes in crispy proscuitto. For dessert, the crème brûlée bread pudding.
What would you be doing if you weren't in this business?
I would be an architect. I like the creativity and sense of design.
What advice do you have for those who might be thinking about a career in food?
Before they spend a lot of money to attend a culinary school, spend time in a professional kitchen and make sure you like to do this type of work. Give it a try to see and understand what it is all about. It is very rewarding, but it is physically demanding, with long hours, working weekends, evenings and holidays. We are in the entertainment business, and when people are having fun, we hare working and serving the food for them to enjoy.
What do you see yourself doing in five years? Ten years?
Shorter term, I would like to have an organic farm and grow my own fruits and vegetables -- grapes and fruit trees of all types.
Many years from now, I would like to consult with others who are opening new restaurants, to be writing a book about my experiences and friendships in the culinary world, exploring places I have not yet had a chance to see . . . and spending more time in Europe. Perhaps winters skiing and summers in Italy -- I have a lot of family in Italy, of course -- and sunny California.
1221 W. Coast Highway
Newport Beach, CA 92663
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Orange County dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.