On the Line: Frederic Castan of Motif Restaurant, Part One

We've met many multicultural chefs while doing On the Line, but Frederic Castan might be my first Frenchman. Distinguished and worldly, he represents the eclectic European cuisine served at Motif. A fan of West Coast wines and excellent cheese, our interview strings together anecdotes from experiences leading up to his residence at Monarch Beach's St. Regis. We sit down the day after he returns from Chi-town, recovering from an elaborate wine tasting dinner his team prepared the evening before. Forced to use red wine in a fish course, Castan improvised a verjus sauce that included unripened grapes.

Your earliest food memory:
Going to the bullfights in Nimes or Arles (France) with my family and purchasing the bull's meat at the local butcher. As soon as the fight was over, locals would line up to purchase this precious meat, and we would make wild bull stew. It was only open an hour, but it would always sell out. We would get cuts of meat from either the shoulder or top of the leg.

Favorite meal growing up:
Wild bull stew (see above answer) from my grandmother. I can still remember the taste. Cornichons, red wine and ripe tomatoes from our garden, lots of capers, onions, garlic, etc. Everything would marinate for at least 36 hours, then be cooked slowly for at least four hours. She made a good 10-pounds for our family, which would last a couple of days.

Your best recent food find:
Red vine spinach from New Zealand — sweet and crunchy, it is delicious.

Most undervalued ingredient:
Farro — whole wheat barley. People don't really know much about it. It's a good substitute for rice and potatoes, and it's very nutrient-rich.

What seasonal dishes can diners look forward to this summer?
Summer fish like turbot, a species of flat fish found in the Mediterranean Sea, is great for summer offerings [Editor's note: And my personal favorite].

Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
Fresh fruits, vegetables, olive oils and vinegars.

What fast food do you admit to eating?
Coyote Grill is my favorite “fast food”. I love the Mexican flavors, and the spiciness of my favorite dish is the Trio Tacos.

What is your beverage of choice, and where do you get it?
Hearty red wines that remind me of home. Pinot from Willamette, Oregon wineries, and Shiraz from Paso Robles, California. We love the wine from Zaca Mesa.

One food you can't live without:
Good cheese. It is versatile and can be mixed with anything. It can be served with wine and bread, or as simple as grilled cheese.

Where was your most recent meal?
I just got back from Chicago and had an amazing six-course dinner at Naha. It featured amazing courses like squab and oyster sorbet paired with roasted onion and garlic, served in a shot glass. Impeccable service.

Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Have great pots and pans, use good quality olive oil, and fresh, organic ingredients are key to great flavor.

What food do you crave most from back home in France?
Good cheese or 'Abat', a French term for a variety of offal meats (the internal and external parts of the animal that are edible).

What do you think of people who take photographs of their food?
I think it is great to document the food. It allows you to see the progression of the art form; to see the evolution.

What farmer's markets have you frequented?
Laguna Niguel and Santa Monica.

Weirdest thing you've ever eaten:
Crispy crickets while I was in Mexico. They were crunchy like chips.

Sweet or savory?
I like both, but always have to have dessert or something sweet after I eat. Anything made with chocolate, but mainly dark. I eat a lot of berries, too.

Favorite places to eat (besides your own).
If I am not eating here I like to get sushi. I really like Riptide, they offer great rolls that are different and unique.

You're making breakfast. What are you having?
I actually love to make my own yogurt! My wife's family grew up making it fresh on their farm in Mexico, and she inspired me to do it. It's not as thick as standard yogurt, but has a very nice, creamy consistency. And usually for breakfast I have oatmeal with blueberries and bananas, and a mixed fruit smoothie with protein.

Weirdest customer request (and did you do it?):
We had a couple that request that their wedding entree be stacked up on the plate in one neat pile: the sauce on the bottom, the veggies above it, then the protein, and topped with shrimp! I spent 30 minutes trying to convince her that it would taste the same, whether we made it look nice laid out on the plate or stacked it up.

In addition, she wanted a bare minimum of at least three inches of white space on the plate, which forced us to concentrate even further when plating. We did it, but it was difficult to execute, and difficult for the staff to deliver to the 150 guests still standing.

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