Updating the restaurant scene at Fashion Island wasn't a task taken lightly. Management cleaned house of older brands, making way for modern concepts such as CUCINA Enoteca. Their second location in Orange County, I questioned Brent Omeste about his CUCINA past and present.
Ok, Brent. You left CUCINA Irvine to pursue other opportunities. Then you came back to helm Newport. What brought you back (when you could've continued working at different establishments)?
When I was invited to come back and helm Newport, I was flattered first, that I had even been considered for the position; then excited to get back to work in an environment where food, wine, culture, and creativity come together so harmoniously.
One food you can't live without:
Pasta. Fresh, dried, egg, extruded, filled. Any way, shape or form.
Where was your most recent meal?
Driftwood Kitchen in Laguna Beach. Tomato salad, crab cake, Parker house roll (awesome), yellowfin tartar tacos, bluefin tuna, banana split. It was great food with an amazing view.
Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Tuck in your thumb when cutting with a knife.
What's the one thing people didn't tell you about working in a restaurant?
Nobody ever made me aware of the variety of opportunities that can come along with working in this industry. There are so many different facets within the hospitality industry. Cooking was the best fit for me.
Most undervalued ingredient:
Lemon juice. A small amount can be the right balance of brightness a dish needs to be successful.
Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
“Food Hall” type concepts. Between OC Mix, Anaheim Packing House, and 4th Street Market, I believe OC is setting the benchmark for these types of concepts popping up all over the country.
You're making breakfast. What are you having?
I'm not a huge fan of eggs, so it typically starts with bacon. Avocado toast is a staple in my breakfast repertoire.
Favorite places to eat.
Break of Dawn. Slapfish. In-n-Out.
Most frequently asked question by guests.
“What's your signature dish?”
Favorite meal growing up:
My father's side of the family has a tomato sauce recipe. A ladle of that slow simmered tomato sauce over any kind of pasta was something to look forward to.
One stereotype about your industry, and whether it's true.
That we are all a little crazy. Everyone I know thinks people who cook professionally must be a little crazy. I think it's true. You have to be somewhat crazy to make so many sacrifices in life to make so many guests happy.
What would be your last meal on earth?
The first meal I had in Florence, Italy. Shaved San Danielle Prosciutto with house made burrata cheese, arugula, and shaved black truffle and a big bowl of fresh egg pasta in a butter sauce with shaved truffle. I can still taste that food and crave it every day.
Is there a dish you'd like to learn how to make?
I would like the chance to work with the USA Bocuse d'Or team and learn how to make that style of food. There isn't a specific dish, but that level of finesse is what I'd like to observe.
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.