On the Line: Mark Cleveland of Avanti Cafe

Cleveland: Ex-cellent!
Cleveland: Ex-cellent!

I'm still mad at Avanti Cafe for stopping their International Tuesdays, so that just means I now try to visit once a week instead of every other day. I usually visit in the evening, when Mark Cleveland relieves his co-owner Tanya Fuqua in a transition as seamless as a Jamaican 4x100 relay baton passing. They've made Avanti the place for innovative vegan cooking in Orange County since 2005, and the two concoct the best drinks this side of Memphis at the Santora. We nabbed Cleveland instead of Fuqua, only because he's the obsessive Tweeter/Facebooker among the bunch:

1. Dish that you cook that most represents you.

Mujadarah - Lebanese rice & lentils w/ caramelized onions & black pepper. When I first read the recipe I could see it played out in my reinvention the way musicians can read sheet music & hear the piece. I made it my own by switching immediately to brown rice, blending a mixture of organic brown rice varieties & blending colorful lentils as well, toasting black & brown sesame seeds, grinding our Avanti black pepper blend & caramelizing large quantities of half moon sliced yellow onions in extra virgin olive oil & grapeseed oil. A classic comfort food reinvented for wholesome American abundance.

2. What was the last meal you had at home?

Wide noodles w/ lemon grass sriracha ketchup & Avanti pepperoncini sauce over cold organic iceberg lettuce salad w/ home grown Tabasco chili peppers, cucumbers, red peppers & chives, garnished w/ white miso millet, quinoa, amaranth & pumpkin (a delicious concoction of food gifts, South Coast Farm favorites & leftovers)

3. Your favorite restaurant (other than yours):

Any of the many Buddhist temples on Mt. Koya in Wakayama ken south of Nara Japan. Shojin ryori vegan temple food is a complete revelation.

4. Fast food guilty pleasure:

Batter fried mixed vegetable platters - including onion rings, taters, yams, taro, mushrooms, peppers, zucchini, etc. w/ blue cheese dip

5. Complete this sentence I would like to [verb] [Food Network Star] with [noun]. (for example: "I would like to BEAT BOBBY FLAY with A STALE BAGUETTE." or "I would like to SHOWER GIADA DE LAURENTIIS with FLOWERS"):

I would insist Sandra Lee make an entire meal from scratch

6. Last meal of your life, what would it be?

I'll arrive hungry & make my selections from the Paradise menu tacked up on the Pearly Gates

7. Items you always have in your refrigerator:

Miso, capers, shallots, dry vermouth, hot chilis

8. Your most indispensable kitchen tool or appliance:

My hands - w/ all 10 digits intact, neither burned nor bandaged.

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