On the Line: Louie Jocson of Zov's, Part One

Blast from the past
Blast from the past
Photo by LP Hastings

Louie Jocson is no stranger to us Weeklings. In fact, he was one of my early On the Line subjects in 2011. Back then, Jocson was launching a collaborative effort in Huntington Beach known as Red Table. These days, he went back to his roots as Zov's Corporate Chef for their multiple locations throughout Orange County. We wrap up 2014 catching up with Louie.

When you first worked in Zov's kitchen, how old were you? Can you share any memories? One of my first employment opportunities was Zov's Bistro in Tustin, 1987. I was 15 years old. I remember everything was made fresh daily and by hand. Today, recipes are made in the same fashion, with the addition of a blender or two.

What are your day-to-day responsibilities at Zov's? Each day is a new challenge at Zov's. No two days are ever the same. I am constantly engaged in how we can make it better. This pertains to food preparation and efficiency, overall maintenance of our facilities, team morale and development, recipe development and cost controls, talent recruitment, working with Zov and simply just working side-by-side with my team in the kitchen.

Tell us about the newest location in Anaheim. Our newly opened Anaheim location stands on the corner of Katella and State College. The interior is handsome, yet beautiful. We have a welcoming team that is prepared to be of service. Our menu features pita pies-- a thin crust recipe that incorporates a pizza dough and pita dough combined. Our Who Gives a Shiitake pizza has been extremely popular. We also serve a selection of fine craft beers, incredible wines and cocktails.

We prepare great steak, sumac dusted seabass, marinated lamb chops, comforting pasta dishes, Mediterranean chop chop salad, appetizers that you will want more of, burgers fit for burger mavens, etc . . . Oh, did I mention desserts? Ridiculous sundae, key lime crunch, warm vanilla hug and broken banana cream pie.

We know you from Red Table, but where else have you worked? Red Table was a concept that I enjoyed building. It began as a thought on a napkin and scratch paper on the coffee table at home. I have also worked at Sorrento Grille, Antonello Ristorante and Beringer Winery, to name a few.

How's Madeleine? Isn't she a teenager by now? Yes, Madeleine is now 13! She is strong, smart, beautiful and caring. She is truly a blessing in my life [Editor's Note: Louie also mentioned being engaged. Congrats!].

Tell us something most people don't know about you. I am a very easy person to cook for. I enjoy simple dishes. My fiancee often prepares meals slowly cooked in a crock pot. I love that!

Is there a dish that you'd like to learn how to make? The dish that I am eager to learn is Sanguinaccio sausage, a Northern Italian blood sausage. When I visited Italy, I enjoyed this dish in a tiny ristorante that was run by a grandmother. She delivered this dish to our table, served atop piping hot polenta, a drizzle of the most aromatic olive oil and shaved Parmesan. Simple! And wow!

One stereotype about your industry, and whether it's true. 1. That it is glamorous to be a chef. Yes, it has its moments. For some, many moments and sometimes stardom. But overall it takes a very special breed of person to love this type of hard work. 2. That Europeans are lousy tippers. They are not bad tippers, nor intend to be. In Europe, gratuity is typically included in the bill. Most Europeans may see the gratuity line as additional gratuity. If they leave you a small tip, take it as a compliment. 3. My absolute favorite one is this. If a guest asks for Zinfandel, and you ask, "Would you prefer red or white?" And they respond with a disturbed look, "Well, pink. Of course!"

Give us an example (or two) of the collaboration between Zov and yourself when updating/creating recipes. Being able to work with Zov is truly a pleasure! When we work to update or create a recipe together, it is always based on a confluence of positive food events. It could be a memory of something that our parents prepared for us when we were children, or a customer mentioning their recollection of a dish you prepared on a whim. The sizzling sound of marinated meat makes when hitting a hot grill, the scent of freshly baked bread, the sight of freshly harvested figs, a recent dining experience, or simply the last meal we prepared for family.

Between the first time you worked at Zov's and today, what experiences have you learned that you're bringing into the kitchen? I have learned that you need to surround yourself with people who rock! With the experience I have gained in building other restaurant concepts and through my travels, I can provide Zov's with a unique approach to updating the menu while embracing the legacy and heritage of her concept. We both work to continue to satisfy the food enthusiasts that grace our establishments on a daily basis.

For example, we realized that tacos are adored by many, so we came up with our own version, tahini tacos. We prepare them with sumac dusted corn tortillas, red pepper aioli, spiced rotisserie chicken or lamb, our signature tahini sauce and vibrant mixed micro greens. It has quickly grown to be a crowd favorite. Zov and I have also had fun creating and collaborating on triple pepper deviled eggs with Urfa pepper, dirty fries with Parmesan cream and wild mushroom gravym and the lamb haute dog with Dijon secret sauce, Urfa ketchup and Persian cucumber relish.

Where did you grow up, and where's home these days? I was born in the Philippines, moved here when I was six years old and grew up in Fullerton. I currently reside in Ladera Ranch.

What turns you on-- creatively, spiritually or emotionally? I find inspiration everywhere. From a deep fried sandwich at the fair, to a simple ice cream cone. I am driven spiritually for the daily gifts I receive. My loving future wife, Gail, great children, a roof over my head, a caring workplace and wonderful weather. Emotionally, I am made whole by the love and support that my family provides.

Zov's has locations in Tustin, Irvine, Newport, Anaheim and John Wayne Airport. For more information, visit www.zovs.com.

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