Greg should be the unofficial city ambassador for San Clemente. Not only does he reside there and prefers the beach, but he enjoys dining close to home. And why not? Greg shares stories of his mom's insane cookie-making skills, and we discuss two more concepts the owner has in the works. More on those later on in the interview.
Your earliest food memory:
Mom's holiday feasts!!! No matter how many people would be coming over to the house, no matter how little space we had, mom ALWAYS made it work! And to top it off. . . it was always delicious!!! She would always start cooking the day before, and there would always be too much food. She definitely is the reason I got into cooking.
Favorite meal growing up:
My aunt's steak dinner. She made it every time she came to watch me when my parents went out! It was a simple roasted steak (medium-rare) with blanched broccoli and mashed potatoes. Everything was simple and seasoned perfectly. I looked forward to it every time!!
Your best recent food find (from where?):
The fish tacos created by chef Jared Cook at St. Roys Chef's Pub at VINE in San Clemente (they used to work together at Crow Bar). The spicy aioli takes it to a whole new level!
How easy is it to import a wood-burning oven from Italy?
The importing of the oven is not that hard. We actually had the window taken out so they can bring everything in and put it all together. The more difficult part is actually finding the perfect oven to produce the products that you desire. It was a perfect size for the restaurant. [Editor's Note: They have a full ventilation system that runs through the back and up the side of the building. So all you ever smell is good pizza.]
What makes Neapolitan pizza different from pizza in other regions of the world, like New York?
The difference is the ingredients and the wood burning oven. For a Neapolitan pizza, you need special “00” flour, San Marzano tomatoes, and of course, traditional Fior di latte mozzarella. The wood-burning 850-degree oven is also a must! These ingredients plus the oven is what creates a perfectly thin, crispy, airy crust!
How do you like your pizza?
Anchovies and pepperoni. . . .The salty sea meets the heat of a good salumi!!! Nothing compares!
What fast food do you admit to eating?
The double western bacon cheeseburger from Carl's Jr! It's the only fast food I'll eat. It puts a smile on my face every time I get it (which is only monthly; it's a total artery clogger). That with the largest soda I can find.
What's more popular, your pizzas with or without San Marzano tomato sauce?
Definitely with. Our top selling pizza is our Margherita Pizza. It's what we tell all our first time guests to try, so that they can get a feel for what our pizzas are like. From there we let them venture off into our other pizzas.
Finish this sentence: An excellent pizza is a result of:
The freshest ingredients, the proper tools, and an experienced pizzaiolo!
One food you can't live without and why:
Cheese! I have a complete love affair with all cheeses. I just bought a new one. It's Italian with the grape leaves around it, and has some of the grape seeds actually in it. I get it from The Cellar in San Clemente. With the abundance of varieties from dry to creamy to soft or hard, each cheese has a unique flavor. Give me a good bottle of wine and a loaf of bread and dinner is served!
What is your drink of choice?
The only thing I actually drink is Jameson. When I'm out at a bar, that's the only thing. Jameson neat.
Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Patience! Don't over rush your cooking and take the time to set up everything you need to prior to getting started. Cooking should be something that isn't rushed, take your time and pay attention to details.
How long does a pizza take to cook in a 850-degree oven?
Once you put your pizza into the oven, you should be able to take it out in 90 seconds.
What do you think of people who take photographs of their food?
I love it! To me, their taking a picture of it because it's something to them that looks like something they want to remember after they devour it!
It's a toss up between Gordon Ramsey and Mario Batali! Both chefs have an amazing passion for not only cooking but knowing anything and everything about all ingredients this world has to offer. To me, both chefs are purists and aren't as into the “gastronomy” as most are today.
Why not slice your pizzas?
Originality. We do it because it's just one more thing that separates us from the others. It also has to do with us doing everything we can to bring our guests the most traditional Italian pizza experience.
Do you prefer your foods sweet or savory?
I lean towards the savory. I've never really been a big sweets guy. I also feel that the savory side of cooking is more “go with wht you like” an sweets is more of a science and using a lot of exact measurements.
Favorite places to eat (besides your own).
I love a good wine bar. There is one in San Clemente (What can I say, I really like this town) called The Cellar that has perfect atmosphere with a great menu. They also always have good live music that fits the style of the restaurant perfectly. The service is on point, and they are always friendly. And since most of the restaurant is communal style, you're bound to make a new friend every visit.
You have a great location next to the lake. Do diners ever have trouble locating you?
It can be a little confusing for some, but by educating our staff on how to explain where we are exactly, the guests always find that we are easier to get to than they originally thought.
You're making breakfast. What are you having?
Eggs Benedict, my favorite. I like to add some fresh avocado slices and an herbed hollandaise.
Weirdest customer request (and did you do it?):
I had a few interesting requests in the past, and will definitely have a few more. And yes, I have done MOST of them! If I have what they want, I always try my best to give my guest what they want.