On The Line: Kurt Schaeffer of Back Bay Bistro, Part One
Photo by Laila Derakhshanian
We interview chefs for two reasons. For those already familiar with their cuisine, it gives diners an opportunity to get to know the chef on a more personal level. Those who haven't been to their establishment are able to understand the individual in the kitchen. If they like what they read, it motivates new clientele to check out a restaurant.
Our new year commences with a locale unknown to your typical Orange County resident. Despite being tucked away in Newport Dunes, Kurt Schaeffer has one of the better dining landscapes to work with.
Your earliest food memory:
When I was six years old I made my parents chocolate dipped strawberries for their anniversary.
Favorite meal growing up:
Anything homemade and Italian.
There is a dim-sum place at the Spectrum, and they have a unique tempura japanese eggplant stuffed with shrimp that is so unique and tastes amazing [Editor's Note: Per James Tea at Capital Seafood, Kurt's referring to their stuffed shrimp with fresh eggplant.]
What's the difference between Saturday and Sunday brunch?
Sunday is our big brunch day; we serve great brunch fare with an omelet station and shellfish station with crab legs. Saturday brunch we offer items such as a gourmet cheese and meat platter.
Culinary speaking, Orange County has the best:
The extremely wide variety of restaurants we have to choose from including mom & pop, chains, ethnic foods and more. Whatever you are in the mood for, you can find!
What fast food do you admit to eating?
I have eaten exactly five times at fast food restaurants my entire life. I have been to McDonald's twice, Burger King, Carl's Jr and Panda Express.
What is your beverage of choice, and where do you get it?
French market lemonade from Trader Joe's.
What did Back Bay Bistro do for New Year's Eve?
We hosted a "Black, Gold and Bold" Cirque du Soleil-style extravaganza under a massive, 14,000 square foot tent! Guests came in casual and dressy attire. Tickets included dancing to Desi DJ Productions, go-go dancers, seafood, charcuterie and dessert stations, party favors and a countdown to midnight. We had confetti cannons firing throughout the tent during our champagne toast.
Does having a fantastic view of the water subtract (less turnover) or add to revenue (ordering more food/beverage)?
I think it adds to the revenue. In my experience, diners tend to stay longer and I notice more appetizers and beverages ordered.
One food you can't live without:
Carbs! Particularly rice. I eat it at least four times a week.
Where was your most recent meal?
I was just in Arizona at a place called The Market Kitchen. I had a Southwestern-inspired pork belly dish that was phenomenal.
Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Be prepared before you start cooking. Have all of the ingredients, tools and pots and pans out and ready to go.
What is the difference between what you do and what chef Daniel Jimenez does?
Daniel is focused on large-volume catering productions. He will create menus for hundreds of people, whereas I tend to focus on individual menu items, creating specials and making sure diners have a great experience.
What do you think of people who take photographs of their food?
Initially I thought it was strange, but I like it. I think it's flattering. If they take the effort to take the picture, it's a mark that I made a great dish.
Hubert Keller. He personifies what I think is a great chef-- he is calm, knowledgeable, looks at his staff as a team, never raises his voice and is extremely creative with what most people perceive as ordinary food. What he can do with a hamburger is genius.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten:
Curry cheesecake and tofu chili.
Favorite places to eat (besides your own).
There's a pizza place in New York called Patsy's and Yamashiro's in Los Angeles.
You're making breakfast. What are you having?
I'm not really a breakfast guy. Probably some fruit, a glass of orange juice and toast.
We know of one other restaurant with a retractable ceiling. What create it?
To me, the skylight and the open air feeling of the restaurant enhances the experience and the senses.
Weirdest customer request (and did you do it?):
When I worked at Salt Creek Grille, a customer would call 30 minutes before arriving and ask for his steak to be cooked for 35-45 minutes. It killed me to "ruin" such a great piece of meat, but yes, I did it.
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