While waiting for our interview to begin inside Splashes, we received a call from Surf and Sand's public relations group. David was involved in a motorcycle accident on his way to work. Thankfully, (despite the intensity of the accident when he recounted it back to us) chef was faring well. We begin this week's OTL breathing a sigh of relief, reminding ourselves to live each day with no regrets. You never know what will happen next.
How do you define “California Coastal Cuisine”?
One word: Lifestyle. I've spent countless days, afternoons, mornings and evenings at the beach. When you spend a lot of time there, freshness is always on your palate. Nothing too heavy, nothing that takes all day to prepare. Mostly fresh, textured, juiced and even raw cuisine. Not to say it isn't progressive, assertive, textured or rich with flavors, but it very much matches a lighter, outdoorsy-like culture with boldness.
Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
California Coastal Cuisine. Ironic, right?!?
Most undervalued ingredient:
Cauliflower. It can be pickled, smoked, ground, shaved, raw, pureed, sous vide, seared, fried, charred, turned into a soup, dust, etc. The list goes on and on. I'm really into it right now, and it's extremely approachable.
One food you can't live without:
Japanese food– technical, logical, fresh, eloquent and still full of potential to be exploited and refined. I'm really interested in getting an opportunity to work with it more.
Elaborate on learning under Chef Tadashi's culinary discipline.
Getting yelled at for a minor mistake, and not getting an explanation of why that may have been wrong. Having my entire cutting board of prep emptied into the garbage can, and being told to start over, but with no product left in the walk-in to fabricate more and no suggestions or direction of where to begin readying the menu to endure a substitution for that service. He would tap my hands to correct me with hot spoons, and give me lists of ingredients to prep with extremely tight deadlines. You know– all good things any striving cook would want to endure to learn discipline and mental organization. I think he spoke five sentences to me in the kitchen the entire time I apprenticed for him, but what a blessing he was for my career!
What are your favorites on the menu?
Ahi tartar, which I usually lack enthusiasm to create, but I developed something very special with this balance of flavor profiles and textures. That's why I love it. Scallops, because they are everything they are expected to be from the season and much more. And the lamb sirloin with vadouvan, caramelized feta and cauliflower cous cous is very special to me.
Your earliest food memory:
I was sitting with my dad in the kitchen, watching how he patiently cleaned and fed me the most amazing mango chunks without wasting any of the edible flesh. I get a flashback each time I see cooks fabricate produce because of this.
Did you learn anything from cooking in a casino setting?
I pushed myself in every way as a professional chef opening two major casinos in the 'freshman' era of my career. I learned to be a 'complete' chef, and to manage with graciousness and humility. I was not hired with an executive title at either property, but gained the respect through dedication and solid work ethics to leave each one as an executive chef, or hold the highest authority within the culinary department.
Strangest thing you've ever eaten:
Cow intestine sausage or eyeball tacos.
Is there a dish that you'd like to learn how to make?
Yes. Every item Chef Jiro Ono presents in Jiro Dreams of Sushi.
What is your beverage of choice?
An Old Fashioned and any muddled ginger-rye whiskey or gin cocktail or any variation of. Usually from Broadway or 370 Common. When I go out for those food industry nights of drinking to end a long week, straight Jameson at the “dirty bird”.
Your best recent food find:
Flavored N local olive oils from Temecula Olive Oil Company. If you love olive oil, you'll find great reward in their products.
I also enjoy morning pastry and coffee at Zinc Cafe in Laguna (Beach). I used to get great cups of coffee on Abbot Kinney in Venice from Intelligentsia when I had my normal food truck roundup out there and finally found somewhere close to where I live and work.
Tell us about your luxe lonchera experience with Vizzi Truck.
Vizzi Truck is like having two egos. One moment, you could feel like Superman, and the next like Clark Kent. Starting my own company, brand, reputation and dining experience in such a unique food culture with innovative social advertising is like a sickness. The whole time you're striving for success and popularity, kinda like high school. Some stops or locations you “kill it” and sell out of food. Other spots, they don't want to know your name! I could write a book on the ups and downs in the streets of LA.
Each day was different– prepping at the beach, cooking at private events like Grammy parties and Oscars, hush hush celebrity events, outdoor raves, etc. Celebrations for the Lakers were a dream situation, but on the road or angled in alleyways cooking is hectic and dangerous. Finding unique ingredients in different locations around the city and farmers markets was exciting. On the other hand, promoting, booking events and marketing while driving, cooking and creating new menus at Kinko's was exhausting. Perfect for those with ADHD, right?
We were really striving to push the level of experience beyond the trend or norm, and it was rewarding as another (truck) gained experience. No other truck was out on the streets with a satellite dish and flat screen monitor! My favorite question now is when event planners ask, “Can you cook in limited spaces?” Oh, yeah!
To top it off, the GFT (Gourmet Food Truck) scene brought me to appearances on the History Channel, Cooking Channel and Food Network. That's PRICELESS!
Where was your most memorable meal?
Eleven Madison Park (New York City). I only had enough time to squeeze in a three-course tasting after filming Chopped. I also drank two cocktails and a glass of wine that were superb.
Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Use shallots in everything. Learn to appreciate acid notes in your dishes. Don't be afraid to cook things for a long time to develop flavors, or as Rene would say, “Deliciousness.”
Alain Ducasse. He has always been devoted to sharing and teaching. He has kept food classy and respectable– the way James Bond fights in a suit and tie. I must also mention that without the books and food influence from Michel Bras, I would be a lost soul.
Let's discuss your seasonal menu.
My instinct is to cook, eat and purchase what local delights are available. My passion is to plan menus that celebrate produce in as many ways as possible on the plate that are not commonly done or over-thought out. Also, to pair those flavors and textures with eye-appealing condiments to enhance mouth-feel and overall finish.
Favorite places to eat (besides your own)?
Ink, Bazaar, Alain Ducasse Mix and Joel Robuchon's L'Atelier in Las Vegas, AOC, Grill 'Em All, Break of Dawn.
You're making breakfast. What are you having?
In the restaurant, it would be a waffle loaded with shrimp, garlic, bacon, vadouvan and shallots, with an arugula-lime syrup and 62-degree eggs.
Weirdest customer request (and did you do it?):
With so many, it's difficult to keep track (That's an inside joke to most chefs, but not to the guys at Playground. Hi Zach!). I will learn to cook for anyone who has a special request, and I'm currently training the kitchen to approach those situations with all our talents and focus invested to making a memorable experience each time. To honor this, there is a sign in the kitchen that reads, “I WILL LEARN TO COOK FOR YOU.”
Favorite meal growing up:
I could not answer this question truthfully, as my ADHD with food likes was obvious even then. But fried eggs, Spam and rice always remind me of Saturday mornings with my family before chores began. I love it just as much now as I did then, and it's the only thing I eat where I don't question the product origin (Spam). The eggs are organic and the rice is brown, but other than that, it's my guilty pleasure. Maybe even my “death row” meal.