On the Line: Dave Larsen of C4 Deli – The Cure for the Common, Part One

There's a lot to look forward to in 2016. Take for instance, OC Weekly's Fresh Toast in February. We've got a tasty lineup of many of our favorite joints to enjoy the best meal of the day. Leading up to the brunch-a-licious event, we're checking in with some of the participating establishments. First up, our friends at C4 Deli in Santa Ana. Dave Larsen is quite the character. He's dropping knowledge this week. 

One stereotype about your industry, and whether it's true.
That 100% of kitchen folk are crazy, drug-addled alcoholics. That figure is way off; it's more like 83%. Let's face it, this is one of the most stressful jobs out there. Plus, you're surrounded by very, very sharp knives, as well as molten oil and grease. You have to be at least half crazy to want to work in this industry. But, kitchen folk are some of the most amazing people out there. And over the years, I have met some of my closest friends working in kitchens.

Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Buy and watch the first four seasons of Good Eats from the Cooking Channel. Get a real knife. Use salt and pepper. Go out to eat as much as possible, get inspired and make more food.

Is there anything you'd like to learn how to make?
A time machine, so I could sleep more. Gold, so I could do whatever I wanted at any time. NO, but honestly, pizza. I want to know all the tricks to making the world's best pizza. God, I love pizza! Let's go get pizza right now!

We read you were a homebrewer. What's your favorite type of beer?
Pizza. Wait— you want to talk beer? Ok, first of all, that's a tough question. That's like asking someone, “Which of your kids do you love the most?” When I was brewing either at home or on a pro level, I was always trying to make beer I would want to drink. That being said, I feel there is a time and place for every beer out there, so it's hard for me to choose just one style. But right now and lately, I have been drinking a lot of Pilsners.

What are some of your signature deli items?
We recently put on a hot veggie melt sandwich on the menu. It's so good. So far, people love it, and it's quickly climbing the ranks to being one of our top sellers. A few locals told me the other day it's too healthy, and that we need to make something a little more greedy. So this week we are running with a classic Frito pie as a special. Fritos, chili, cheese and sour cream. We try to keep things balanced. 

We can't forget our Reuben. We make it with marbled rye, house cured pastrami, house made Russian dressing, house made sauerkraut (Are you sensing the home made theme here?) and Swiss cheese. It's a deli staple for certain, but we work hard to make sure ours is one of the better ones available in the county.

Your best recent food find:
A week ago, my friend and I found this empanada shop in a liquor store down the street from my house. It's SO GOOD. And cheap. And fresh. I'm NOT going to tell you where it is, because it's my spot. I will say I live in Orange. Go find it yourself!

Most undervalued ingredients:
Love, passion and teamwork. If you're not using those things in your kitchen, you will fail. Or at least the guests will be able to taste it. If you mean real ingredients? Well . . .probably mustard— we use it in nearly all of our salads and in our rubs.

Your original OC connection is via Haven (Pasadena. Now closed.). Can you tell us a little about working there?
Starting a restaurant like Haven was really fun because we got to create our own culture. The staff we had, it was a magical time because everyone was so cool. We used to hang out and have a few beers together; it was like a family. The friends I made there are friends for a lifetime.

Strangest customer request (and did you do it?):
When I worked at Whole Foods in the meat/seafood department, there was a lady who would bring in her own gloves and paper to handle product with. I always thought that was strange, but we did it anyway, of course. How did she think everything made it into the case? 

I worked in a steakhouse in the late 90s, and remember having to cut up several people's steaks into bite-sized pieces for them, even though they were completely capable of doing it themselves. Strange customer requests happen all the time in this industry. Grilled cheese, no cheese? (Isn't that just toast?) No mustard on that pastrami sandwich? (I blame the parents.) At the deli, we try our best to make guests happy.

What's the one thing people didn't tell you about working in a restaurant?
Every kitchen is different. Every chef is different. Find a group that you can totally jive with and have fun. Always have contingency plans for your contingency plans. Oh, and trust no one (laughs).

Favorite places to eat (besides your own).
We should probably do another interview, “Top 10 Pizza Places in OC With Your Host David Larsen”. I eat other things besides pizza, I swear. Me and some of my friends got on a plane once to go eat sushi at Tojo's in Vancouver. Sushi coma! A bit more locally, there is an amazing place in Cypress called Cafe Hiro. It's French-Japanese fusion— you must try the uni pasta. Oh, and you've probably never heard of it, but there is this amazing burger place called In-N-Out. You should try it sometime (Hey, Lynsi Snyder. Call me!).

Talk about fishmonger life. Do you have a favorite fish as a result?
Super early hours, we (Fish Market San Diego) had our own fishing fleet, so we would get 300 pound loins of swordfish. I had to learn how to break them down. It was a great, although hard, introduction to the culinary world. It taught me a lot about how to inspect ingredients, handle fish, meat and poultry, as well as filet and cut pieces. But you don't want to know much more about that . . .you want to hear about the good stuff. 

When you work at a fish market, you wear boots. You come home, you stink like fish, so you leave your boots at the door. Well, one morning, when I went to put my boots on, I noticed that there were some little bite marks on them. Was something chewing on my shoes? I'm running late for work, so I hurry off on my way. That evening, same thing. I come home, take my boots off and leave them at the door (because, obviously, they stink like fish). The next morning, I wake up, and they're gone! I figured out that mice, rats, perhaps the chupacabra that lived in the trees by my place stole them in the night. Either that, or  the shoemaker's gnomes have a thing for repossessing boots that smell like fish. 

Oh, and my favorite fish is salmon. Only because I have to pick just one.

Check out C4 Deli: Cure for the Common at Fresh Toast on Saturday, February 27 at Newport Dunes. For more information, click here for the event page.

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