At 24, Lulu De Rouen was the youngest executive chef for the Patina Group when she was handed the reins at Leatherby's Cafe Rouge. Five years later, she is as driven as ever to pave the way for CUCINA enoteca's first venture beyond San Diego. Her enthusiasm is contagious as we converse about approachable cuisine and her invaluable kitchen team.
What are six words that describe your food?
Artisanal, approachable, playful, refined, artistic, classic.
What are eight words that describe you?
Energetic, generous, adventurous, driven, determined, fun, loyal, honest.
Marbled short rib from Anjin in Costa Mesa.
Most undervalued ingredient:
Rules of conduct in your kitchen:
Professionalism, pride, respect, teamwork, sense of urgency [Editor's Note: An ode to Thomas Keller's kitchen mantra, perhaps?], passion, no ego.
One food you detest:
The smell of fish sauce reminds me of my last day in a kitchen at which it was tradition for your fellow colleagues to haze you as a way of saying goodbye.
One food you can't live without:
My dad's gumbo is amazing and makes me feel right at home.
What fast food do you admit to eating?
The rolled tacos with guacamole at Alberto's are the best snack for a mellow Sunday afternoon.
Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Olive oil should not be used for high-heat cooking; it should be used for vinaigrettes and finishing. If you want a good sear, try canola oil.
Garf's and the Little Knight, both in Costa Mesa.
Favorite celebrity chef:
Joachim Splichal has been an incredible mentor and a true friend.
Celebrity chef who should shut up:
Nadia G of Nadia G's Bitchin' Kitchen; [her show is] too gimmicky, but hilarious.
Favorite music to cook by:
Best food city in America:
San Francisco has a great energy and vibe. The food scene is made up of chef-driven, smaller restaurants that tap into the different surrounding cultures.
What you'd like to see more of in Orange County from a culinary standpoint:
Chef-driven restaurants and playful cuisine, such as what you'd find at Marche Moderne.
What you'd like to see less of in Orange County from a culinary standpoint:
The Babbo Cookbook by Mario Batali
When you're not in the kitchen cooking, what are you doing?
Surfing, fishing, and unwinding with family and loved ones.
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Weirdest thing you've ever eaten:
Rabbit brain in Spain. It's supposed to be the best part, both sweet and savory.
You're making breakfast. What are you having?
Breakfast burritos with fresh salsa.
You're at the market. What do you buy two of?
Two bottles of wine to share with my friends. Never show up empty-handed!
Weirdest customer request (and did you do it?):
Puréeing a complete fish dish for a guest who had his jaw wired shut, so he could drink it through a straw.