Andrew Gruel of Slapfish doesn't want diners to have just any tuna-fish sandwich; he wants to take the notion of a traditional one and “make it the apex of tuna sandwiches.” As we continue our interview in the future home of his and Jethro Naude's test kitchen, Gruel shares his passion for shellfish and how jazz factors into things.
Hardest lesson you've learned:
Hard work doesn't always pay off; efficient hard work does.
What would your last meal on Earth be?
Limitless eggs Benedicts made with poached quail eggs and petite English muffins — hundreds of them — with Hollandaise to drink.
Who's your hero, culinary or otherwise?
Both of my parents are pretty amazing people, and neither knows how to cook, therefore making them my culinary heroes as well. Without them, I wouldn't have ended up in the kitchen.
Tell us about your food-service-industry background.
I have worked in large hotels and small restaurants for 14 years, more recently in the world of seafood. I have degrees in food marketing and culinary arts. I love every aspect of the hospitality industry, from marketing to washing dishes and now driving large trucks with stoves in them.
Why call yourselves Slapfish? Do folks get confused?
I love onomatopoeia. “Fish so fresh you can slap it!” The sizzle in the pan.
What are the challenges to specializing in seafood — i.e., refrigeration, etc. — on a food truck?
The challenge isn't keeping it fresh, as we receive it daily, but instead convincing people it is fresh. Selling seafood on a food truck mistakenly conjures up images of food sold out of a Cadillac. We're also a wholesale importer.
How did you and Jethro meet?
We met while I was living in Silverlake. I was the the program manager for the Aquarium of the Pacific's sustainable Seafood for the Future program, and he was a sustainable-seafood wholesaler/importer for his own company, Status Seafood, trying to promote his well-managed seafood.
Let's discuss how sustainability factors into your cuisine.
We only serve sustainable seafood. . . . Our oceans are very precious, as is our health. We promote that people should be eating more seafood, but the right types of seafood — abundant, well-managed and free from pollutants.
What dish would you tell newcomers to Slapfish to try first?
The Lobsticle: It's flavor country on a stick. We just finished working on an animated feature on how to eat one.
What would you be doing if you weren't in this business?
I would be a jazz piano player.
What advice do you have for those who might be thinking about a career in food?
Go travel the U.S. and eat with a diary. Learn about your palette. Get ready for long hours, gluttony, crazy personalities and lots of burns — and sideburns.
What do you see yourself doing in five years? Ten years?
Traveling, cooking, opening up more Slapfish restaurants and teaching young cooks how to take themselves less seriously.