We interviewed Rick LeBlanc of Rick's Atomic Cafe yesterday, the man who's bringing a bit of organic, New England class to the office drones around John Wayne Airport; after the jump, the rest of the story!
Fresh blueberries, sage and triple cream
You're at the market. What do you buy two of?
Weirdest customer request:
A sandwich of refried beans and fried egg.
Favorite OC restaurant(s) other than your own:
Bo De Tinh Tam Chay in Westminster. This is a classic Vietnamese vegetarian restaurant with an endless menu of noodle, rice and porridge dishes.
Hardest lesson you've learned:
Follow your passion. I spent years working in other fields while catering and cooking for friends and family on the side before finally committing to my passion.
What would the last meal on Earth be?
Fresh New Brunswick, Canada lobster poached in butter ala The French Laundry.
Who's your hero? Culinary or otherwise?
What cuisine that you are unfamiliar with would you want to learn more about?
Japanese--their ability to be so subtle with flavors and so respectful of ingredients.
How did you end up in such a strange location? Any plans to move somewhere more visible?
Necessity is the mother of invention--do you have any ideas?
What dish would you tell newcomers to try first?
An omelet with home fries and toast--comfort food.
What were you doing before you cooked at Rick's, that is, what's your background, culinary or otherwise?
I started in the restaurant business in Connecticut back in 1974 I worked the front of house and spent every moment I could in the kitchen learning techniques and skills that I have never forgotten. After moving to Boston I took a job in the arts and started catering on a small scale with fellow chefs and this continued here in California until I took a job as chef and then Executive Chef for the Shoreline Yacht Club.
What advice do you have for those that might be thinking about starting a career in food?
If you are passionate about cooking, the long hours and minimal pay will be overshadowed by the opportunity to create.
What do you see yourself doing in 5 years? 10 years?
My dream is the little neighborhood restaurant where I know most customers names and they know mine. I would love to own the classic local foodie hangout.
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What you'd like to see less of in Orange County from a culinary standpoint:
Lord Krishna's Cuisine: the Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking--this book fascinates with the complexity of spices and flavors of Indian cooking. Marcella Hazan's The Classic Italian Cookbook--not only do you learn classic regional recipes and techniques, you get a story about the origin.
When you're not in the kitchen cooking, what are you doing?
Well, if the Connecticut Huskies or the New England Patriots are not on the tube, I enjoy music and Mid-Century design and architecture.
Rick's Atomic Cafe, 3100 Airway Ave., Ste. 113, Costa Mesa, (714) 825-0570; twitter.com/ricksatomiccafe.