On the Line: Kelli K. Elliott of 320 Main, Part One

Kelli Elliott started as a line cook at 320 Main. She left, but then returned when there was an opening for an executive chef. Her Midwest upbringing was similar to owner Jason Schiffer's, giving them instant rapport and an understanding of what the other was thinking. Admittedly, we were the last on our team to find our way here. But it was worth the wait.

Like many of us, Kelli's food experiences were based in her grandmother's home. After school, there were snacks. Lunches would always be packed. Breakfast was cooked every morning.

Your earliest food memory: Baking chocolate-chip cookies with my grandmother. I used to stand on a chair to help mix. We got to lick the bowl when she was done.

Favorite meal growing up: Pot roast with mushrooms, carrots and potatoes every Sunday. Before we went to church, she would sear the pot roast, and when we got home, the aroma would be emanating from the house. She would have us drop off plates of food to some of the neighborhood elderly.

Your best recent food find: Cioppino from American Fish Grill in Torrance. It's relatively new. We had a Groupon. The broth was so good I wanted to lift the bowl and drink from it.

Most undervalued ingredient: Passion. I worked with a guy, and the running joke was that we "Do it with love." If you love what you're doing, it translates into the plates you craft. You can tell when someone is having a bad day.

What do you recommend for first-timers to 320 Main? Our signature, dry-aged rib-eye.

Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best: Cocktails. I live in LA, and the whole downtown and Hollywood area falls flat with the appreciation. Here, people really appreciate the craft. It's not just about mixing the drink; it's about tending the bar. It's about knowing the ingredients. Orange County is that place.

What is your beverage of choice, and where do you get it? Moscow mule at 320 Main.

Where have you worked previously? Sea Legs in Huntington Beach, Artisan House in DTLA, House of Music and Entertainment in Beverley Hills.

One food you can't live without and why: Mashed potatoes are my all-time-favorite comfort food. I like them a little bit lumpy, with a lot of butter and a little bit of cream, salt and pepper.

Where was your most recent meal? What did you have? Post and Beam in Baldwin Hills. We had fried chicken and mac and cheese.

Best culinary tip for the home cook: Plan ahead. Don't be afraid to try new things. And a glass of wine makes everything okay.

Favorite chef. Why? Anthony Bourdain, for not being afraid to speak the truth.

Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: I had sea urchin several years ago. It was the first time I had sushi. A friend was visiting from Chicago, and he ordered off the menu for us. I didn't know what it was at the time.

Favorite places to eat (besides your own): Any small, mom-and-pop café. Angelo's Italian Deli down the street is so good. It's not a big chain; it's family-owned. Also Four Daughters Kitchen and Uncle Bill's Pancake House in Manhattan Beach.

You're making breakfast. What are you having? Hash browns, bacon, scrambled eggs with cheese and onions, grits and biscuits.

Weirdest customer request (and did you do it?): I was asked to cook a Porterhouse well-done. I did it reluctantly. We try to accommodate most requests, if possible.

What's the most challenging thing about cooking a hunk of meat? Ensuring even cooking temp all the way through.

Is there a dish that you'd like to learn how to make? I would love to learn how to cook a whole pig in the ground.

Let's talk about that fried PB&J . . . Fried PBJ! Fresh bread from Crema Bakery, smooth peanut butter, strawberry preserves, marshmallow fluff, coated in Japanese bread crumb, deep-fried! What else is there to say?

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