On the Line: Zach Layton of Babette's

From East to West Coast
From East to West Coast
Brian Feinzimer

Family-run businesses tend to have a good story behind them, so I took a chance with an East Coast concept found at Crystal Cove Promenade. Zach Layton's parents began Babette's back in New York, but I wanted to know more about how they came all the way to Orange County to set up location number two. Get to know Zach below, and be sure to order some bacon the next time you're dining there.

Let's talk about the origins of Babette's. What motivated/inspired your parents to open their establishment. And where does the name come from?
My parents met working in restaurants in the West Village of NYC in the mid-70's. My mother was a front of house manager, and my father was a chef. They had run a few restaurants together and even opened one together long before Babette's was born, so it was something they were very well-versed in. The name Babette's comes from a danish film called Babette's Feast. A fabulous film if you love food.

What skills/advice have you learned from both of them to help run this location?
I've basically learned everything I know about restaurants from my parents. I spent the majority of my life in the kitchen, where I learned a lot from my father, a classically trained chef from the CIA. Over the last seven to eight years, I've transitioned more towards the front of the house, and everything I know out there is from working with my mom. She's an absolute master at knowing what is happening at every single table at all times. If I can one day get to even half of her talent out on the floor, I'll consider it a major accomplishment.

Most important quality you look for in a sous chef.
A sense of pride and ownership.

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One food you can't live without.
Garlic. While it doesn't play a huge role here at the restaurant, I put an absurd amount of it in almost everything I eat.

What did you serve at Summer Fest?
A chilled raw asparagus and spring pea soup.

Name an indispensable tool in the kitchen that isn't a knife, fork or spoon.
Easiest question so far. Black Sharpie.

Best culinary tip for the home cook:
The simpler, the better.

How was the decision made to expand the brand, and what were the determining factors that led to selecting Newport?
My mom and I always knew that if we were going to open another Babette's, that it would be on the West Coast. We originally thought we'd end up in the Santa Monica area. We linked up with a realtor who suggested we see a location in Newport Beach, so we came down one afternoon. Once the Irvine Company caught wind that we had checked out one of their locations, they went into full on pursuit mode, and when they want something, they can be quite convincing.

What are the most popular items, and have you adjusted the menu at all for Orange County diners?
During the day, I'd say our Ace of Clubs Sandwich is our most popular. At dinner, I'd say it's probably our Wild Seabass. When it come to having to adjust the menu for Orange County, only one thing really pops out in my mind. In East Hampton, we've never carried pork bacon in our 20+ years in business there. Barely anyone makes the request, and no one is really disappointed with the choice of turkey bacon only. Here in Newport, people lost their minds that we didn't carry pork bacon when we first opened. Even restaurant reviewer Brad Johnson titled our review (only five weeks after opening, mind you) "Charm, but no bacon, at Babette's". Needless to say, while we still don't have pork bacon in East Hampton, we carry beautifully clean, nitrate-free pork bacon at Babette's Newport Beach.

Favorite places to eat (besides your own).
My favorite place to eat right now is at my house. In terms of restaurants, I like Playground in Santa Ana a lot. I'm also very partial to Central in Laguna. I really like what Anna and Taylor have created over there.

But is it Mountain Valley sparkling?
But is it Mountain Valley sparkling?
Brian Feinzimer

What is your beverage of choice?
I know it's a boring answer, but my honest beverage of choice is Mountain Valley Sparkling Water. I drink alcohol very occasionally.

Are there any seasonal selections in the current menu?
We change out our menu seasonally, so there are always seasonal items on there. Right now, we're using a lot of spring peas, pattypan squash, fava beans, etc. on the menu. For cocktails, we do cold-pressed juice cocktails that are always utilizing seasonal fruits and vegetables.

Favorite childhood memory.
Huge Christmas dinners at my grandparents house in Brooklyn with the Italian side of the family. It was always like a scene out of a Scorsese movie. My grandma and great-grandma over the stove for countless hours preparing 12-15 courses. Absolute characters smoking cigarettes and playing cards, and Sinatra blasting all night long.

Tell us something most people don't know about you.
I'm actually a life-long vegetarian.

Favorite meal growing up:
My grandma's eggplant Parmesan.

Hardest lesson you've learned:
Probably a good rule of thumb overall, but definitely in this business, don't work with your significant other.

Last thing you looked up online:
This weekend's weather report.

What would you like to be doing if you weren't in this business?
Sooner rather than later, I want to get heavily involved in helping small, remote communities get cheap and sustainable hydroponics and aquaponics growing systems up and running to provide people with highly nutritious food that they can grow, feed themselves with and have pride in.

Babette's is located at 7962 E Pacific Coast Hwy, Newport Coast, (949) 715-9915; www.babettesnewportbeach.com.


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