On the Line: Mike Dimmitt of Garlic Scapes, Part One
Photo by Johannes Dewald
Mike Dimmitt was difficult. And by difficult, we mean next to impossible to get a hold of. We'll let the fact he was in the process of moving be an excuse, but c'mon! He's lucky we share a favorite chef and infatuation with dim sum and (San Diego) breweries. A purveyor of the so-called stinking rose, the Garlic Scapes luxe lonchera is also known for some tasty chili. Now if only they sold breath freshener for afterward . . . .
Your earliest food memory:
My father's firehouse biscuits and gravy. He would make this every weekend. He was a fireman and the designated chef for his firehouse. My mom didn't cook.
Favorite meal growing up:
Casa de Taco, a La Habra taco joint. I would get the bean-and-cheese burrito with rice and green onions. They would call it "The Mike burrito."
Just recently found Rosine's in Anaheim Hills. Great Mediterranean food. [Editor's Note: When we lived in the 909, we used to frequent there, too.
Most undervalued ingredient:
Cumin. When I make chili, I use way more than most people. It's a way to control the smoky flavor.
How did the idea for a truck come about?
Looking for an inexpensive way to get good food to the masses.
Tell us about your award-winning chili.
I've been cooking for about five years in the international chili society circuit. I have one of the few first-place People's Choice awards. It's been a ton of fun [meeting] great people. The recipe has morphed over the years, but people still say the chili they are eating from the truck is some of the best.
Biggest challenge in operating a luxe lonchera?
Scheduling, scheduling, scheduling. We get between eight and 10 requests per day to visit a location. Picking the right one is like gambling; you either win or lose.
Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
Food trucks, as far as I'm concerned.
What fast food do you admit to eating?
Anything that is greasy Mexican food. There is a little taco trailer by our food-truck commissary, and I grab tacos from it at least a few times a month.
What is your beverage of choice, and where do you get it?
Craft beer. I go to Port Brewing Company in Carlsbad to get great beer. The brewers in OC have come a long way also. I love Noble Ale's, Old Orange Brewing Co., the Bruery and Bootleggers.
Any failed garlic experiments?
When working on a garlic dessert, our garlic strawberry shortcake didn't go so great. The flavors just didn't work.
Did grilling cheese on the OUTSIDE of the bread start off as an accident?
I wish I could take credit for this one, but there are other trucks that have worked this one out. Ours just took time trying to figure the right kind of cheese to use on the outside and how to get that garlic flavor just perfect.
One food you can't life without:
Greek or Mediterranean. I love the freshness and use of bold flavors.
Where was your most recent meal?
Had a Genoa and Capicola sub from Rodney's Deli in Yorba Linda. Solid sandwich and deli.
Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Taste everything as you cook.
What did you think of the Gilroy Garlic Festival?
Gilroy is an amazing town. Forget the festival, they have a whole garlic-themed park. It was like a small Knott's Berry Farm, but all garlic. I think it was called Garlic World or something. It was awesome. It's what sparked my idea for the truck.
What do you think of people who take photographs of their food?
The first thing that comes to mind when I see people photographing our food is "probably a Yelper." I think it is awesome, and I am a huge foodie and can appreciate it.
Jamie Oliver. Years ago, I used to watch him on The Naked Chef and think, "That dude is having so much fun." I remember the first thing I ever saw him cook was a cod pie, like turkey pot pie. I love his energy.
Would you like to open a brick-and-mortar, operate an additional truck, stay exactly the way things are, or something else?
My goal is to open a small, divey bar with really great food. Nothing fancy, but a place where people could get great whiskey, beer and food. And to have my wife working with me. I dream small [laughs], but I want to always run a truck in Orange County, no matter what.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten:
Rocky Mountain oysters. I wouldn't recommend it. It will not be served on the truck, ever.
Favorite places to eat (besides your own):
Stone Brewery in Escondido. I love the pairings they throw together with their beers.
What other trucks have you been wanting to try?
Every once in a while, I see something about the Dim Sum Truck. Not sure if they really exist, but love me some dim sum. Especially anything with shrimp -- siumai, dumplings, etc.
You're making breakfast. What are you having?
Biscuits and gravy.
Weirdest customer request (and did you do it?):
Somebody ordered our lemon garlic chicken salad wrap with no lettuce. So, really, it's just chicken and feta cheese, no dressing or anything else. They ordered one and came back for a second one.
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