On the Line: Zach Geerson Of Tempo Urban Kitchen, Part One

Looking for the fine print
Looking for the fine print
Photo by LP Hastings

The subjects I interview come from different walks in life. But what they all have in common is a desire to create a positive dining experience for their patrons. Found off the 57 freeway in Brea, Tempo Urban Kitchen started upping the ante late last year, pushing a modern menu both in the kitchen and at the bar. Holding down the fort in the back of the house, Zach Geerson gives us the low down.

Where does the restaurant name come from? Tempo. The speed or pace of music. Timing. It's a connection to our motto, "March to your own beat." What we do here is based off of us, off of what we envision, not based off anything anybody told us to do. We have the freedom to do anything; no holds barred. We keep our own "tempo." The "Urban Kitchen" part is saying that we don't try to be fancy or fine-dining. We are in the streets, inspired by what we see in our everyday lives. Street food is a big part of the inspiration for our menu items and our name. We just do our own twist on the items that we find.

What are some of your signature items? The Fish 'on' Chips, gnocchi, and our tacos are probably the things I'd consider our signature. And, of course, our table-side, liquid nitrogen ice cream!

Let's discuss the table-side ice cream! How labor-intensive is it? The table-side ice cream is one of the coolest things we do (pun intended). It's an infused heavy cream-based ice cream that is super chilled using liquid nitrogen, and served with a selection of little snacks based off of the flavor of the ice cream. It's requested pretty often, especially on the weekends. Once one table sees the ice cream being made, there's a snowball effect. It's not extremely labor-intensive in itself at the table-- the hardest part is the preparation and setup. I make sure that all the snacks and garnishes are ready, and that they complement the ice cream flavors. We run three different flavors weekly.

What's the one thing people didn't tell you about working in a restaurant? Well, when I got my first restaurant job, my parents warned me about the pros and cons of working in a restaurant. I kind of ignored it at first, but then a lot of the things they mentioned began happening to me. So I can't say that I was never warned, but there are things that you wouldn't believe until you see them actually happening.

Where was your most recent meal? (Laughs) Breakfast burritos on the back prep table with the guys and Jorge (owner of Tempo) .

Strangest customer request (and did you do it?). There hasn't been anything too strange. . . yet. There was one guest who asked for our beet salad on a burger bun instead of the burger patty. I did it, of course, but my guys were awfully confused about the setup!

Could you please elaborate on your cocktail program. Just as we are in the kitchen, we are in the bar. Our bartenders are always trying new things and practicing their craft. They make all the syrups and bases for all the cocktails in-house. We have a growing selection of tequilas. Just as some place specialize in whiskey, we want to be known for having really great tequilas.

What is your beverage of choice? I'm a huge fan of our Brea Highball and our Miche-Mango. The Miche-Mango is another find from TJ: Beer, mango, lime, tajin. Couldn't really get much better than that.

Is there anything you'd like to learn how to make? Yes. many of things. Right now, I'm in the process of learning the ins and outs of Mexican cuisine. I would also love to one day work with highly skilled Japanese chefs, and learn a little about pulling noodles and making soba.

Favorite meal growing up. My favorite meal growing up was sausage and peppers. It's one of he dishes that was made on Sundays when the family would all come together at Nana's house. I also loved to snack on raw vegetables and fruits.

You best recent food find. Aguachile de Camaron. Raw shrimp "cooked" in lime juice and chiles. This dish is very taboo for the American palate, but it's so stinking delicious. I first learned about it from one of the guys that helps us out in the kitchen a few days a week. But my eyes were really opened on my first trip to Tiajuana with Jorge. We went to a restaurant that had Aguachile as its own category on the menu. Incredible.

Favorite places to eat. I've been to Playground, and the food was really good. If I had the time and the money to eat there consistently, I probably would. There aren't too many places I've actually had a chance to experience yet. I'm looking forward to a little food travel. I'm also a sucker or Five Guys!

Best culinary tip for the home cook: There are a lot of good tips for home cooks, but I'd have to say reading the fine print in recipes if you read cookbooks. Don't look for the flavor pairings so much, you'll develop that with time as you figure out what fits your tastes. Look for what the author is saying they do to know when your cake is done. Take your time and be deliberate. Good food takes time; don't rush it and enjoy the process.

One stereotype about your industry, and whether it's true. Some people say cooks are kind of outcasts and a motley crew. It's true for some, but they're probably the people that don't take the time to get to know cooks. Cooks are the best people on the planet. If you are close with a cook. most are loyal friends, hard workers, confidants, drinking buddies. We're good with our hands; we're creative. We tend to be the first to drop what we're doing to help other people out, because we know what it's like to need help and not get any. Not only these things, but WE ALSO COOK! Can't get better than that.

Tempo Urban Kitchen is located at 1060 E Imperial Hwy in Brea, (714) 529-2900; www.tempourbankitchen.com.

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