On the Line: Stephen Le Of The Kroft, Part One

Co-founders (and owners) Stephen Le & Matthew Tong
Co-founders (and owners) Stephen Le & Matthew Tong
Photo by LP Hastings

If you haven't tried the Kroft yet, it's all good. They are making their way across Orange County, with Tustin opening next month. While I may feel a tinge of guilt when inhaling their cheese curds, a friend's commentary always rings true, "If you're going to eat bad, it better taste good." So I'll start this interview by thanking Stephen Le (and Matthew, his partner-in-crime) for a menu I have trouble saying no to.

How did the name come about? Naming our establishment was definitely the most grueling part of starting up. We brainstormed day and night over months at a time, and agreed that it is our intention to support local farmers within our community. The word "croft" with a "C" is defined as a small, enclosed farm or pasture near a house or small tenant farm. It feels fitting to us to be called the Kroft.

What is your beverage of choice? Ketel on the rocks with a splash of tonic and two limes.

Where was your most recent meal? Brodard in Westminster. Nem Nuong Cuon (pork spring roll) as an appetizer and Com Bo Luc Lac (shaken beef).

Best culinary tip for the home cook: Don't be afraid to fail and do something outside of the box. If you fail horribly, it's okay because it makes for a great story.

How would you describe your cuisine to someone unfamiliar? Hearty comfort food that is packed with flavor.

What do you recommend for first-timers? Come with friends and an appetite. Specifically, try the chicken pot poutine, porchetta sandwich and a cucumber mint limeade.

Your earliest food memory: Home-cooked meals at a table with a big family.

Your best recent food find: Portobello fries at Hamamori sushi at South Coast Plaza.

Tell us about your culinary experience. I have no professional training. However, my passion is to experiment, create and perfect great meals. It is definitely a lot of trial and error in my 25+ years of cooking. Every Sunday and holiday, my family would count on me to create the family menu. I am the youngest of five children, so you can imagine the feast that needs to be pulled together for a very hungry group of people.

Prior to this restaurant, my professional background was in a completely different field for many, many years. Today, I've been blessed to share my love of food with the public.

Favorite places to eat. Nana San, Burnt Truck, Shik do Rak, Trieu Chau, Mastro's, The RANCH, Popeyes and any dangerous hole-in-the-wall taqueria.

Weirdest customer request (and did you do it?): A deconstructed braised short rib poutine. We packed all of the ingredients separately, so the fries were in one container, followed by the braised short rib, gravy in another, mushrooms, pickled onions, cheese curds and parsley in our smallest container.

Give us an example of strong customer service. Being greeted with a smile and a friendly vibe. In addition to being professional, I expect someone who can provide knowledgeable menu suggestions and anticipate needs.

Any plans to expand further? Our second location is slated to open inside the Union Market at the District in Tustin in late November. 2015 will be an exciting year for us, as Kroft #3 is scheduled to open at the Kaleidoscope in Mission Viejo in February, and the Kroft #4 is scheduled to open in downtown Los Angeles in April. There are a couple of other locations that are in the works, so definitely follow us on Instagram and Facebook for the latest news.

The Kroft will be located at The District, inside Union Market. Union Market is located at 2493 Park Avenue, Tustin; www.thekroft.com.

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