While the grand opening of The Country Club, Costa Mesa is technically tomorrow, you’re more than welcome to swing by today for a sip or bite. It’s a clear departure from what PSA used to be, and I think you’ll be pleased with the changes Chef Zachary and the rest of the opening team brought. This week, I’m at the bar of this new 17th Street den.
How would you describe The Country Club concept to someone that is unfamiliar?
We are hoping to take recognizable food and make it our own. We take pride in our ingredients and pay attention to what we are doing every step of the way, so that something that is familiar can be made different, just because we have appreciated the process.
Most important quality you look for in a sous chef.
Someone who is willing to inspire and do what it takes to become a good leader. A lot of sous chefs get moved up because they are the best cooks, which is very important, but being a good cook teaches you nothing about how to lead a team. Someone who is on fire to make the people around them better is one of the most valuable traits in a sous chef.
Did you ever go here when it was Pierce Street Annex?
I was told to stay away from PSA (laughs).
Tell me about a recent food find.
I have been having fun with yogurt-based breads, like khachapuri, which have inspired the dough for our flatbread!
Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Learn to use salt and pepper; they are the only seasoning you’ll ever need.
Are there any signature dishes at Country Club?
Currently, the one that has the most buzz is our tomahawk. But time will tell what people gravitate towards.
Favorite places to eat:
Din Tai Fung, Taco Maria, Anepalco, LSXO.
Do you source from any local markets, vendors, etc.?
I work with vendors who are visiting all local markets, and stress the importance that everything comes from as close as possible. California is blessed with beautiful produce; we should celebrate that.
One stereotype about your industry, and whether it’s true.
That Gordon Ramsay is how chefs act. That is an old stereotype that is slowly dying. We are craftsman who are deeply passionate about what we do, which causes us to sometimes act out. But we do everything to make sure the people who are eating our food feel our passion.
What is your guilty pleasure food?
Any fast food burger; something about them will always get me.
Where did you grow up, and where do you call home these days?
I grew up in North County, San Diego, in a little town called Ramona. I currently live by Angel Stadium.
Your favorite childhood memory.
All holidays. I come from a big family, where everything was celebrated with food. So there was always something to look forward to.
What was the turning point when you decided that you wanted a career in hospitality?
When I decided that I wasn’t going to be a rockstar, but I really liked to make people happy and have an impact on their day.
What did you learn from work experience that you wish was taught in culinary school, if anything?
Thinking you’re going to be a chef out the gate is one of the naivest thoughts I’ve ever had.
Last thing you looked up online.
Salt and pepper shakers (there are way to many of those out there).
You’re making breakfast; what are you having?
Probably something wrapped in a tortilla.
Tell us something most people don’t know about you.
I’m a big computer nerd. Shhhhh.
Hardest life lesson you’ve learned.
There are some things you just can’t control.
What profession would you like to try if you weren’t in this business?
Making video games or playing music.
The Country Club, Costa Mesa is at 330 E 17th St, (949) 281-2582; www.countryclubcm.com.
A contributing writer for OC Weekly, Anne Marie freelances for multiple online and print publications, and guest judges for culinary competitions. A Bay Area transplant, she graduated with a degree in Hospitality Management from Cal Poly Pomona. Find her on Instagram as brekkiefan.