On the Line: Saifon Plewtong Of True Seasons Organic Kitchen, Part One

Chef Saifon Plewtong at the Irvine Farmers Market
Chef Saifon Plewtong at the Irvine Farmers Market
Photo by Dustin Ames

Depending on who you ask, cooking your own food in hot liquid can be referred to as shabu shabu, fondue, or a few other terms. Chef Saifon of True Seasons takes it a step further, including alternative meal options and a commitment to high-quality ingredients.

Describe the concept at True Seasons Organic Kitchen. Plus, how does it differ from similar concepts? At True Seasons, our specialty is fresh, farm-to-table organic hot pot cuisine. Put simply, it's a meal cooked at the table in a pot of soup, with a variety of fresh ingredients and accompanied by tasty dipping sauces. While the soup cooks, fresh meats, seafood or vegetables can be put in, quickly cooked, then enjoyed with one of our sauces. Because it's very simple, it can be customized to a wide variety of taste preferences, and can accommodate most food sensitivities. While we are known for the quality of our meats, vegans and gluten-sensitive diners often find a whole new world available at our restaurant. We also offer wraps, rice and salad bowls, and daily soups.

While most hot pot restaurants are based on one ethnic variation or another (it's a global cuisine), our concept is really defined by our ingredients. With few exceptions, all of our food is organic, with non-GMO ingredients from local growers. It's an experience of enjoying farm-fresh ingredients without much processing or heavy oils, just letting the food speak for itself. We've done our best to keep everything clean and simple, avoiding MSG, chemicals ot preservatives. We match the quality of the ingredients with a high level of service and a passionate knowledge of the food and where it comes from. We love to share with our guests why the food they are enjoying is not only delicious, but also thoughtfully sourced, clean and healthy.

Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best: Oceanfront dining.

Your best recent food find: Grilled, blackened halibut sandwich from Mosaic at Montage Laguna Beach.

Favorite meal growing up: Lemongrass soup.

What is your involvement in The Free Pantry? Co-founder. I source the produce we distribute and organize volunteers at our events (it is a 100% volunteer organization).

Best culinary tip for the home cook: Keep it simple and don't skimp on quality. A long ingredient list doesn't necessarily make a great dish.

One food you can't live without: Vegetables, because my health depends on them.

Who are some of the farmers and vendors you work with? What is your favorite farmers market? Sea Wind Farms, South Coast Farms and the Greener Fields Together program with Family Tree Produce. My favorite farmers market is the Irvine Farmers Market at Mariners Church.

One stereotype about your industry, and whether it's true. Because of TV, people think the kitchen has to be a chsotic, stressful environment. However, in reality it can be a calm, professional environment, with a team working together to create a great dining experience.

What were the challenges to opening a storefront, and how did you overcome them? Construction of our restaurant was very challenging. I got through it by keeping a positive attitude and being thankful for the opportunity.

We hear your preferred beverage is also on your menu. What is it? Fresh-pressed sugar cane juice.

You're making breakfast; what are you having? Lundberg organic wild rice with coconut butter, avocado, dates and figs drizzled with honey.

Is there a dish you'd like to learn how to make? While I've made a variety of dishes, I've never made pasta from scratch.

Favorite places to eat (besides your own). Splashes, Mosaic, Thai Mint Leaf.

How would you guide a hot pot novice in preparing/cooking their meal? Set aside enough time to really enjoy the ingredients and the unique flavors, and not rush through the meal. When the ingredients are brought to your table, avoid the temptation to put them all in at once-- they cook fast! Be especially careful with your meats; because they are thinly sliced, they can cook very quickly (15-20 seconds), and you'll want to enjoy them while they are still tender.

Sauce preferences really depend on taste, and can even change depending on mood. Feel free to experiment with the condiments, adding green onions, garlic or chili pepper to your sauces and soup until it's just the way you like it. Don't forget, after enjoying all your main ingredients, there will be a hearty, delicious soup to finish your meal. Most of all, remember there's not one "right" way of enjoying this meal. It's what YOU like. Have fun!

True Seasons Organic Kitchen is located at 5675 E La Palma Ave, Anaheim, (714) 462-9223; www.trueseasonskitchen.com.

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