Greg Daniels of Haven Gastropub, Part 1

Old Town Orange is going through a sort of culinary renaissance lately, and Haven Gastropub is a big part of it. You can generally tell which building is Haven by the crowd of people standing around outside for a table. This week, Haven's executive chef and partner, Greg Daniels, volunteers to talk to Stick a Fork In It. Stay tuned for more questions tomorrow and a recipe involving seafood and beer on Thursday.

OC Weekly: What are six words to describe your food?

Greg Daniels: Creative, comfort, casual, gourmet, flavorful, fresh

OCW: What are ten words to describe you?

GD: Sarcastic, driven, creative, caring, leader, impatient, demanding, intelligent, careful, self-aware

Your best recent food find:

GD: Pork Flatiron.  Was just given a sample–all natural, well-marbled, delicious. Definitely the next menu addition.

OCW: Most undervalued ingredient:

GD: Salt. I think this is where many restaurants fail to deliver good food. I don't know why so many people want to eat tasteless, bland food. I understand the health factors, but until a doctor tells me otherwise, I will continue to salt my food so that I can taste it.

I know that some chefs will tell you that using fresh ingredients requires less seasoning, and I totally agree. The point is to “properly” season food. This doesn't mean over-seasoning or under-seasoning. There is a balance that you reach with the use of salt that if done properly, highlights the ingredients without actually tasting salt.

Rules of conduct in your kitchens:

GD: Work clean, and don't complain. I don't yell… much. I expect that my team shows up on time, puts in 100%, and is happy doing it. I run a kitchen that is very open to suggestion. I feel that if a line cook is involved in the development of the dish, he or she will have a sense of ownership that only comes with that involvement. Dishes that we work on rely on just about everyone being involved, whether it be the whole thing or just a small aspect of it. It's important to hire creative people, that can bounce ideas off of you. As a chef, I believe being open to those ideas is what makes a restaurant great.

One food you detest:

GD: Anything from McDonald's. Anything from Olive Garden. I hate when people say, “Well, the breadsticks and salad are really good.” If a restaurant's claim to fame is breadsticks and salad, I don't want to be there. Besides the fact that you can find a much better plate of pasta for the same price or less anywhere.

OCW: One food you can't live without:

Tacos. Being from Whittier originally, I was raised on Mexican food. I don't think I could live without it. Growing up, we had tacos every Friday night – the spicier the better. My stomach has paid the price over the years, but it's not slowing me down any. [
Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:

Phở. Especially down where I live in Fountain Valley – you turn into any shopping center, and you'll find some great Vietnamese food. Bánh mì sandwiches are amazing as well–with extra cilantro and jalapeños of course. I also really love the Japanese robata and yakitori at Shin-Sen-Gumi on Brookhurst, and Tsuruhashi for Japanese BBQ across the street. It takes some digging to find these spots amidst all of the lousy restaurants in the area. I'm talking about you, Applebee's!

OCW: What is your fast food guilty pleasure and why?

GD: In-N-Out. I can eat it without feeling like I'm contributing to the downfall of society.

OCW: Best culinary tip for the home cooks.

GD: Stick to recipes in the beginning, but once you grasp the fundamentals, feel free to experiment. There's nothing wrong with having fun in a kitchen.  

After-work hangout:

GD: Most of the time, I will spend some time at Haven when I'm done working. Otherwise, I'll go to the bar at Charlie Palmer, or straight to my living room to hang out with my wife and my dog. They don't see me that much, and I tend to miss my dog.

OCW: If you could cook for one person, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

GD: My grandfather. He's on my mind all the time. I think he had an appreciation for food that was never given a chance to flourish. He had a vegetable garden in the backyard. Icicle radish sandwiches are still something I crave. White bread, butter, icicle radishes, and salt. Just simple, great food.

Favorite celebrity chef.

Chris Cosentino, if you consider him a celebrity chef. I don't think he would consider himself a celebrity.

Celebrity chef who should shut up:

The people I think should shut up aren't really chefs anyway, so I'll save the commentary here.

OCW: What's next for you?

More locations, more projects–basically more work in general. We have a lot of ideas, and location possibilities. Does anyone out there have any money?

Proudest moment as a chef:

GD: Opening Haven to thousands of people outside our door. It was during the Orange International Street Fair. We filled up all of our tables and were 3 deep at the bar fifteen minutes after opening our doors. You can't ask for a better turnout on your first day of business. We always tell people that 500,000 people came to see our restaurant on opening weekend.

Favorite music to cook by:

GD: Mariachi El Bronx. It's a spinoff of The Bronx, a local band a couple of friends play in. I'll be at House of Blues in Anaheim on Thursday to see them play. We listen to everything though. Bad Religion, James Brown, Blur…whatever suits our mood.

Best food city in America:

I need to travel more, but I'd say San Francisco. I love New York, but think Frisco has more heart. No offense, NYC.

OCW: Favorite restaurant in America:

Per Se. It was an amazing experience, and worth all of the many dollars it cost. Service made the experience even better. Thomas Keller knows how to keep his employees happy, and it shows with the service.

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