On the Line: Gerry Kent of PUBlic 74

Per Chef Kent:

I feel honored to be part of this day and time in the food industry, as it seems to be changing faster than ever before! Going to school now can almost be dangerous as the real world basis for comparison (cooking style). 

The proprietor of multiple establishments in Southern California, Gerry Kent is one tough person to locate. This week, we attempt to have him sit still long enough to conduct our interview regarding his San Juan Capistrano spot.

You discuss the menu reflecting the spices and feelings of the season. What can we expect from your summer selections?
Less cream and butter. Good balances between fats and acid. Lighter salads. For example: steak with kimchi and fried egg, or Thai basil seafood coconut curry.

Where did you grow up, and where’s home these days?
I grew up in Fresno. I now live in Laguna Beach.

As a supporter of local farmers and sustainable practices, where do you source some of your ingredients from?
Pasture Bird, Anchor Farms, Pacific Stone and Crab, Harry’s Berries and farmers markets.

What is the concept and story behind the name of the restaurant?
We love to have fun. To me, cooking is one of the biggest things in my life that makes me happy. It can be very hard at times, (and truth, even harder) if not only are you doing the cooking part, but making huge business decisions that determine the future of the company!

In having fun, making food approachable and different is really what we push for! Classics twisted up in different ways! Makes for food you can crave and want more than once in a while. We pull from so many things that are going on, which I assume many chefs do. Usually when I write a menu, it’s off the cuff, and they are things that I want to eat in that very moment. I feel it speaks to the fun; playful, but maintaining approachable.

I love seeing guests try— the first look, and then bite. There is a judgement, a head nod, eyes widen, another inspection of the dish at a different angle. The first bite, when the smile is enough to make it tough to keep  their lips closed while chewing. Then the head nod. We push to get that reaction every time. We want guests to feel comfortable in the space and relax. 

I suppose the concept summary is that we want guests to feel comfortable with their feelings and emotions like they are our best of friends and family! We want you to feel great when you’re in PUBlic. The name PUBlic 74 is a play off of the PUBlic brand as it sits on the 74/Ortega Highway.

You’re making breakfast; what are you having?
I am a total sucker for a fluffy frittata, or hot cinnamon roll.

Tell us about your guilty pleasure food.
Truth is I eat my emotions! I cook with them as well. Pasta, Mexican and sweets.

One stereotype about your industry, and whether it’s true.
So many people/guests always automatically think that ALL chefs have huge egos. It’s not true. Often because we believe a dish should be served as designed. As we have trialed and tested it so many times. We want to express our personality. Yes, we are passionate, but isn’t that the point of the experience of a particular style of ideas and food plays.

What is your definition of happiness?
Successful busy night with lots of happy guests, or spending time with wife, kids or both! I like quiet time just as much as intense busy times.

Last thing you looked up/searched online:
Let me look (laughs). Actually, news on the election. That isn’t normal.

What made you decide to pursue a career in restaurants?
I originally used to tell people that I wanted to be an engineer! But I started young in the industry and loved it. As a kid, I worked 40-60 hours a week. I loved working. I think working as a cook and a server in the same day gave me perspective of the guest experience. I really enjoyed seeing people’s reaction to what they thought was good food. I committed to the industry at 18/19. Just went from there.

Tell us something most people don’t know about you.
I really love driving fast and/or controlling something with a motor! I would like to take up race/autocross driving up on the side. I would like to do the Baja 500/1000 some day!

Your favorite childhood memory.
I have lots. It would be hard to narrow it down. But keeping it food-related, when my grandma made meatballs and pasta. So damn good.

What other restaurant experience do you have?
I started in a small Italian mom and pop place at the age of 16. I have been cooking ever since. I worked in multiple small Italian restaurants, and then moved to Newport Beach (despite still not knowing anything). First job was at Sorrento Grille in Laguna Beach. Wow, there are some stories I could share of my first week. I was so green, and had never even had fresh clams at that point! Got the chance to work with some great chefs that helped guide me to where I am now. 

Hardest life lesson you’ve learned:
Life is a moving target, and it’s all about balance. I haven’t figured this all out yet.

I hear there are sister restaurants to PUBlic 74. How does this differ from them, if at all?
PUBlic House, Temecula (original location, eight years). Similar menu structure, but all item are different. 75% of the seating is outside under louver patio cover. Like hanging in your best friend’s backyard (A nice one, of course). Downtown PUBlic, Murietta has a completely different menu design. We make all the buns, breads, pasta and ramen noodles all organic flour. All of the locations have twists and spins on some classics, with a few surprises.

Your best food find.
This course at Alinea: Pumpernickel toast with Gruyere custard and Australian black truffles.

You have a whole day to yourself; what would you do?
Wow. (laughs) It depends on how many days in a row I have worked. Hit a float lounge for peace. Hit the ocean on jet skis. Take a walk in the mountains (I love the mountains).

What profession would you like to try if you weren’t in this business?
That’s something I just can’t imagine.

Are there any upcoming events readers should know about?
We are doing tap takeovers at the 74 location monthly. Follow us on social media for the deets on all locations!

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