On the Line: Renieri Caceres of Rustica in Fashion Island, Part One
Photo courtesy of Bill Milne

On the Line: Renieri Caceres of Rustica in Fashion Island, Part One

There has been a changing of the guard at Rustica in Fashion Island. Grant MacPherson left the kitchen sometime last November, leaving it to the very capable hands of his chef de cuisine, Renieri Caceres, who, like his predecessor, came from Sin City.

Executive chef Caceres has been everywhere--more places than I care to list here--and could, if he wanted to, name drop the people he has worked with like he sprinkles parmesan. Among them: Gordon Ramsey in England, Georges Blanc in France, Martin Berasategiu in Spain and Michael Mina in the States. We ask him to spill the beans on Ramsey, in particular, on Part 2 of our profile. So stay tuned for that.

Herewith is where we warm him up with Part One.

What are six words to describe your food?

Refined, simple, flavorful, seasonal, elegant, local.

What are 10 words to describe you?
Passionate, creative, dedicated, simple, ethnic, grateful, aggressive, perfectionist, accomplished and humble.

Your best recent food find:
85 Degrees Bakery. Award-winning pastry chefs making quality breads and pastries. Expect a 40-minute line most days that runs out the door, though. Definitely a price worth paying.

Most undervalued ingredient:
Salt--it is an inexpensive ingredient that will make or break the best thought-out dish, even with superior products. It should be used to compliment and showcase the food's natural flavors--not overpower them.

Rules of conduct in your kitchens:
It's all about the product/food. If you don't care enough to execute the food correctly, find some other place to play cook. You are only as good as your last dish.

One food you detest:
It's hard to hate the one thing you make a living from, but if I had to choose one thing, it would be sea urchin. No matter how many times I have tried, its flavor intensity is too overpowering.

One food you can't live without:
Cereal. You cannot go wrong with something so inexpensive, simple and consistent. You always know what to expect.

Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
Potential. Orange County will be a great location for young, talented chefs who are giving their guests the food they deserve.

What fast food do you admit to eating?
Chipotle. Besides satisfying my cravings for Mexican cuisine, they encompass my core value of keeping it simple but good.

Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Have fun with it! Drink, make a mess and share.

After-work hangout:
My living room, in front of the tube.

If you could cook for one person, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
My father. I would have liked him to have a chance to say, "Wow, that was great" after eating something I made.

Favorite celebrity chef:
Thomas Keller. He has solely raised the bar so high for chefs around the world, yet he still gives his staff the respect of calling them all chef.

Celebrity chef who should shut up:
I believe being a so-called "Celebrity Chef" you need to be anything but silent. It comes with the territory.

Favorite music to cook by:
Whatever the prep guys have got going on is good for me. It's so important to make the staff happy while they are making the food right. They have earned the right to pick the back of house jams.

Best food city in America:
San Francisco. I might be a little biased coming originally from San Francisco, but I'm sure that many people would agree. There is such a variety of cuisines to choose from, and you will never be disappointed.

Favorite restaurant in America:
By far, the French Laundry. I can still recall the euphoric state I was in during my dining experience there. Any time you can create 30 different dishes that are all executed to perfection--now that's excellence.

What you'd like to see more of in Orange County from a culinary standpoint:
Young blood. Orange County is at the brink of a culinary face-lift. Young chefs are going to be key in this movement. Gastropubs, mixologist, alternative cuisine, etc.

What you'd like to see less of in Orange County from a culinary standpoint:
Chain restaurants. They are a chef's kryptonite. It kills me that there are people out there that rarely eat naturally good food. Thanks to these chains, what some think is good or great cuisine is overly processed, frozen and terrible for you. It becomes harder to retrain that "chain" palate to appreciate what a real tomato is supposed to taste like when it is in season.

Favorite cookbooks:
Flavor Bible. If every aspiring chef had one, the world be full of flavor. It gives you all the varietal of your flavor profiles without taking away your creativity. I can spend hours flipping through it.

When you're not in the kitchen cooking, what are you doing?
With my family. I try to spend as much time with my fiancé and her son as possible. The balance between work and home is a very important and hard thing to master--as most chefs know.

Rustica, 1133 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 706-8282; www.rusticafashionisland.com.


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