On the Line: Sharron Barshishat of Paninoteca Maggio, Part One
Dustin Ames

On the Line: Sharron Barshishat of Paninoteca Maggio, Part One

Some people make the assumption that only a chef or cook of a certain ethnic background can master that particular cuisine. However, there are always exceptions to the rule. Sharron Barshishat found a passion for cooking early on, but decided to pursue it later in life. While attending culinary school, he gravitated towards Italian cuisine. He opened Paninoteca Maggio last year, and already has plans for a new location. But it's easier to have chef do the explaining.

Your earliest food memory: Friday dinner with my family. It's a big day of the week for Jewish traditions. It is the first day of Shabbat, a holy time when we celebrate. We pray and have amazing food. For me, it was the highlight of the week.

Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best: Vietnamese food and waffle sandwiches. Bruxie, anyone. . .?

Tell us about your culinary experience. Cooking is a lifelong passion of mine. I always wanted to be a chef, and five years ago, I turned my dream into reality by going to culinary school. After 10 years in construction management, I went to Cordon Bleu in Pasadena. Training included five months interning in Tuscany, Italy at a one Michelin-star restaurant, Botaccio de Montignoso. It was there where I got my true passion for Italian cuisine and culture.

While back home in California, I teamed up with a friend and launched a gourmet food truck, Great Balls On Tires. I created the menu and operated the truck for six months or so, departing from the food truck business and going back to Italy for six months for some culinary inspiration and hands-on experience.

Upon returning home to California, I landed a head chef position at Osteria La Bucca in Hollywood for five months, where I got to work with James Beard award-winning chef Jason Nerroni (now chef and owner of Superba Snack Bar in Venice). Afterwards, I got to work for Mario Batali at Pizzeria Mozza in Newport Beach and experienced the unique technique of using a wood burning pizza oven. Currently, I've owned and operated Paninoteca Maggio for the past 20 months. What are your best-selling items? Amalfi (prosciutto, basil, pest and fresh mozzarella) and my signature panini, Toscana (porchetta, arugula and lemon aioli) are neck-to-neck.

One food you can't live without. Bread. Bread is the cornerstone of an Israeli diet.

What is your beverage of choice? Whatever is cold-- water, vodka, tonic, beer. My go-to place for a bite and a drink is Lola Gaspar. I love it there. It's like my second living room. Everything is good there. They recently changed their menu.

Favorite chef. Growing up, the only cooking show on our single channel Israeli television was a French tv show hosted by Joel Roubuchon, recently voted chef of the century. That was my first exposure to "fine" cuisine. How did you come up with the name? Paninoteca in Italian is a sandwich shop/bar. Maggio (May) is the name of a street in Florence, Italy, Via Maggio, where I lived for six months back in 2004.

Your best recent food find. I was recently exposed to Vegan/raw cuisine at Au Lac in Fountain Valley. Amazing, mind-blowing, tasty and satisfying.

Where was your most recent meal? Father's Office in Santa Monica. I had their signature burger, lamb skewers, Brussels sprouts with bacon and warm olives.

Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: Raw fresh tuna heart while fishing with my dad off the coast of Orange County. It tasted almost like chicken liver. And it was still warm. I caught my first tuna, and the people I was with told me it's a tradition to eat it. It was interesting.

You're making breakfast; what are you having? Israeli eggs, tomatoes and peppers called shakshuka.

Strangest customer request (and did you do it?): Mozzarella cheese on porchetta. No, I didn't. There should be no cheese on a porchetta, whatsoever. Best culinary tip for the home cook: Keep it simple and fresh.

Favorite meal growing up. My mom's specialty: Moroccan couscous and chicken tagine.

How's progress on the new location? After a long process of plan checks at city hall, we are moving forward. The expected opening month is May. Paninoteca Maggio will be part of a project called The Roost by the developer behind Chapter One and Copper Door.

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