On The Line: Erick Simmons Of The Crema Cafe

In less than two weeks, OC Weekly’s Fresh Toast brunch spectacular will be partying down at Newport Dunes. There are only a couple of chefs left to feature, so I chose a chef I’ve been meaning to interview for a while. Between the time I met Erick Simmons and the time I was ready to initially interview him, he was transitioning to a new establishment. Little did I know that establishment was owned by former subject (and hard-working baker) Tarit Tanjasiri. Erick’s role is not focused on the baking side, however, but on the breakfast and lunch service for the rest of the cafe.

You’re making breakfast for yourself; what are you having?
Cheese omelets with avocado toast, probably with (but not before) an entire pot of coffee.

Most important quality you look for in a sous chef.
The ability to take direction and learn after the first mistake. Otherwise, just be a good person who I’d like to spend a bunch of time with.

You earliest food memory:
Earliest food memory would be hating the cafeteria’s egg salad sandwich day at preschool; my brother, Jason, and I just wouldn’t eat that day. Who makes eggs into salad anyway? I struggled conceptually on that one as well.

What kinds of changes have you made to the menu since joining the kitchen?
Not many yet, but we have started running a specials menu every weekend which has three rotating seasonal specials.

What do you recommend for first-timers?
I recommend the crepes, especially the breakfast crepe. I love the chorizo, avocado and cheese combo for breakfast.

Favorite places to eat (besides your own).
Los Compadres in Long Beach on Anaheim Street. It makes me feel like I’m at home. I love this place!

One stereotype about your industry, and whether it’s true.
That chefs are egotistical, alcoholic, rock star, druggie, workhorses with skewed views on current social and political matters. I believe this to be true. 

Last thing you looked up online:
The history of BBQ. Or was it tickets for Long Beach State basketball?

When was the turning point in your life when you decided you wanted to be in the hospitality industry?
I’ve wanted to be a chef since I was 14 years old. My parents urged me to create a back-up plan, just in case the Lakers or Dodgers didn’t call me.

Do you have any skills that have nothing to do with food?
More like life interests: building, fishing, art and cultural things. Basically I have no shortage of passions and hobbies.

What’s the one thing people didn’t tell you about working in a restaurant?
I grew up in this industry. Nothing really surprises me. The show will go on.

Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
Culturally eclectic food scene.

What is your guilty pleasure food?
Fried chicken or Pringles, but not necessarily together.

Where did you grow up?
All over Southern California. I was born in Long Beach, and bounced around all over, finishing high school in Riverside.

Hardest lesson you’ve learned:
Seems like every lesson has been hard. I’m always working on my ability to communicate with people effectively, getting the most out of each situation and person.

How did you meet your wife? We also heard you have a son?
I was introduced to my wife by my good friend, who was dating her twin sister at the time. We really hit it off, and haven’t been apart since. We have a beautiful, healthy son named Axel, who is about a year and-a-half now. Marriage and fatherhood has really been amazing so far. 

Where do you like to golf?
Long Beach, mostly Big Rec and El Dorado.

Tell us something most people don’t know about you.
I love to garden. It’s exactly the opposite of what I do for a living. Peaceful, nature stuff is another passion of mine.

What would you like to try if you weren’t in this business?
A landscaper or gardener. I love being outside, creating beautiful things.

What would be your last meal on Earth?
Tacos and pizza. I’m crazy about both these dishes. I basically have tacos or pizza every day. It’s a great life.

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