To come across a chef that tries to focus on a gluten free diet is few and far between. Yet the chef in Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club’s kitchen does his best— with the occasional Dutch Baby breakfast, of course. I cross paths with the O’Neill’s chef for this week’s interview.
Most important quality you look for in a sous chef.
I get excited about individuals who take initiative. Our kitchen is open for breakfast, lunch, dinner, Sunday brunch, holidays and a host of daily banquet events. So you can see why I say initiative, but personality goes a long way with me.
We noticed the polenta board and truffle cauliflower shells and cheese on the dinner menu. Tell us more about them.
The polenta board is my favorite menu item. I love polenta! The truffle cauliflower and cheese is an adaption of a gluten free mac and cheese. The cauliflower puree adds a creamy and unique character to the dish. The addition of sunchoke crumbles that act as bread crumbs adds both texture and flavor.
What is your guilty pleasure food.
Since I have a mostly gluten free diet I’d have to say the perfect Italian sandwich.
What was the turning point in your life when you decided you wanted to be in the hospitality industry?
When I realized that I could have a career making others happy, and I get to eat good food. That’s when I decided to go to culinary school.
What should culinary school teach (if anything) that you didn’t learn until you worked in restaurants?
I don’t know the curriculum these days, but in retrospect I’d want to learn more about managing employees and empowering others.
Most undervalued ingredient:
We’ve been making fresh farmers cheese for the last year, and sometimes we dry it out and age it slightly before serving, but I’ve started using it as a fresh sauce base. Our process is to cream the cheese and thin it while it’s hot, then add our Spanish green harissa to it.
From your time at Tabu Grill to now, what have you learned over the years?
To use all your senses when you cook.
Take time to get to know the staff on a personal level, ask how the family is, etc.
That being a good communicator is the key to consistency.
One stereotype about your industry, and whether it’s true.
That as chefs we must eat well all the time. I certainly do enjoy some of the fruits from my labor, but I eat pretty simple at work. However, when I’m home I try and show off a little for my wife and son.
An indispensable kitchen utensil that isn’t a knife.
I love my plating spoons. They aren’t exactly indispensable, but they make me feel like an artist using the right brush to achieve the proper stroke.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Orange County, but lived in Albuquerque, Dallas and Washington D.C.
Tell us about your family. How did you meet your wife?
I met my wife at our school bus stop in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We were neighbors and friends through high school and married after college. We have one son, Hayden, who’s 10 and dangerously handsome.
You’re making breakfast; what are you having?
Dutch Babies with whatever type of fruit or berries I have around. I love the thin pancake that cooks up the side of the pan. Yum! No, they aren’t gluten free.
Do you play golf?
I enjoy going out in the middle of the afternoon to get away from hectic days at work.
Your favorite childhood memory:
As a child, I recall always being outside, running around with the other neighborhood kids. Those were some of the best times of my life. Quite a bit of camping in New Mexico as a teenager. You don’t need reservations; you just go!
Last thing you looked up online:
Okay, as a guy I know I’ve had my share of times where I’ve said, “I can make that!” Well, I’ve finally started to make good on all those comments. I’m studying concrete right now. I’ve already built a couple of cubes and made a bench for my backyard, and I’m currently looking to make a concrete and wood outdoor dining table.
Hardest life lessons you’ve learned:
To stop making excuses.
That it’s okay to ask for help.
That you never fail at anything if you really try.
What profession would you like to try if you weren’t in this business?
Outside of carpentry, I’d love to be an architect. Primarily home design.
O’Neill’s Bar & Grill is located at the Arroyo Trabuco Country Club at 26772 Avery Pkwy, Mission Viejo, (949) 305-5100; www.arroyotrabuco.com/oneills.aspx