On the Line: Manfred Lassahn Of Watertable, Part One

Keeping his cool
Keeping his cool
Photo by LP Hastings

For this holiday edition, I dove up the coast for our interview. Located inside Huntington Beach's Hyatt Regency, Watertable offers a thoughtful, seasonal, even customizable menu to its patrons. Chef Lassahn runs an efficient kitchen, as I meet him on a day where he's balancing three major events throughout the property.

Most undervalued ingredient: I would say it's not the ingredient, it's the condition of the ingredient. Anything fresh off the vine is precious, and its quality of flavor/nutrient density is commonly overlooked.

What would be your last meal on earth? An Animal Style, In-n-Out Burger.

Favorite meal growing up: My favorite meal growing up was something that my mom made, and that was Hungarian goulash with spätzle and red cabbage.

Tell us about your most recent wine dinner. We most recently partnered with Cakebread Cellars for the latest in a series of winemaker dinners at Watertable. It was very well-received-- an amazing evening of great food, wine and conversation. The menu included:

Course 1 - 2013 Sauvignon Blanc paired with Santa Barbra prawns, grapefruit ceviche, avocado, rye crisp, jalapeno-lime dressing.

Course 2 - 2013 Chardonnay (Napa Valley) paired with California melon & heirloom tomato salad, pickled cucumbers, goat feta, micro basil, pear vinegar.

Course 3 - 2011 Pinot Noir (Anderson Valley) paired with pan-seared diver scallops, smoked parsnip puree, licorice greens, sour cherry relish, Maldon sea salt.

Course 4 - Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) paired with cocoa-rubbed venison, Cabernet soaked black currants, chickpea puree, and boysenberry-veal red wine demi.

Course 5 - 2011Merlot (Napa Valley) paired with a black forest semifreddo.

What's the one thing people didn't tell you about working in a restaurant? That staying on top of your game will be the most fulfilling thing that I will ever do.

Most frequently asked question by guests. "Is everything made in-house?", and the answer would be yes; everything from soup to nuts.

What is your culinary experience? Being a first generation American from German immigrant parents, I had the unique opportunity of returning to Germany after high school to complete a full European culinary apprenticeship. The experience took three years to complete and was priceless.

Let's talk about your Sunday Southern Suppers. Sunday Supper is our spin on the Southern "Meat and Three" traditional weekly family meal. Start by selecting your "Meat" - which, based on the seasonal menu could be anything from lamb meatloaf or cedar plank salmon to buttermilk fried chicken or roast pork loin. Next is the hard part - selecting the "Three" sides for the table to share (the roots are Southern, so naturally there's a mac & cheese with jalapeno bacon crumble option). Deviled eggs and crisp green salad are set on the table to start. We keep crumbly white cheddar and thyme biscuits flowing, and everyone selects their own dessert.

All in all, it's an interactive evening. Return back to tradition or start a new one - that was our intent with this concept. As busy and hectic as our lives have become, it's important to take one day out of the week to sit and break bread together, as in years gone by.

Is there a dish you'd like to learn how to make? It's not the dish that I would like to learn, but it's the art of artisan bread making. I know pastry and savory, but bread is in its own category.

One stereotype about your industry, and whether it's true. That chefs primarily have larger than life egos. Great food is about the quality of ingredients, and not the chef's ego.

What food trend are you tired of? Fake allergies. Allergic reactions to certain foods are legitimate and must be taken seriously, but I'm disturbed by the growing attitude that's positioned food intolerance.

What is on the current seasonal menu? As spring is the season of renewal, here are a few new menu items you will find at dinner:

Heirloom carrot and Easter egg radish, pumpernickel dust, yogurt, smoked sea salt, dill pesto.

Salad of stone fruit and rhubarb, citrus mascarpone, roasted stone fruit, hazelnuts, pickled rhubarb, mache greens, port reduction.

Pan-roasted Branzino, Meyer lemon, fennel and thyme stuffed, white corn succotash, chorizo jus.

Zuckerman Farms field asparagus, toasted hazelnut gremolata, crispy prosciutto.

Favorite places to eat. That would have to be Rocksugar in Century City, a Pan-Asian restaurant with dishes from Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia & India. Chef Mohan does it right.

Where was your most recent meal? What did you have? There's a great pizza place near home, and every so often when I'm too lazy to cook, I order out [Editor's Note: Chef is referring to Red Devil Pizza!].

You're making breakfast. What are you having? This would be one of my favorites that we serve in Watertable for breakfast: The SoCa. The combination of a bacon maple waffle, poached egg, chicken-fried chicken, country slaw and sriracha hollandaise is my idea of morning nirvana.

Watertable is located at 21500 Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach, (714) 845-4776; www.watertablehb.com.

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