On the Line: Johannes Bernau of Las Brisas

Most chefs are typically known for a single establishment or brand. My subject for this week is part of the kitchen team at Las Brisas, but he does quadruple duty at a few other spots. Get to know the multitasker in my interview.

Tell us about your first restaurant job. How did that influence your decision to remain in food service?
It was a mom-and-pop pizza place at the age of 16. I made pizzas and washed dishes. I remember having so much fun tossing pizza. That knowledge helped me get my first real chef job after culinary school. At the time, no one would hire me, even with a fancy culinary degree.

Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Disable your fire alarm — just kidding! If it is not going off, you are not doing it right.

You’re making breakfast; what are you having?
Yolky eggs. I’m a huge egg slut.

You are not only chef for this establishment, but you also contribute to a number of places. Could you please elaborate?
This is true. I oversee the specialty brands that cover Las Brisas, Who Song and Larry’s, El Torito Grill, and Sinigual in New York.

Where did you go to culinary school?
Le Cordon Bleu Las Vegas. I feel that I didn’t learn much, but the degree helped open doors after a few years of experience. And I don’t think I would be where I am now if not for culinary school.

Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:

When you’re not in the kitchen, what are you doing?
Sleeping or doing laundry.

Let’s discuss your ethnic background. How does that influence your cooking?
I am half Japanese, three-eighths Dutch and one-eighth Indonesian. First generation, my mother is Japanese and my father is other. Most of the time, I don’t include the Indo part just because it’s such a low percentage. But as far as culinary, it was a big impact. As a young kid, I would cook with my Indo-Dutch grandmother, even though we didn’t speak the same language. Also, I would cook Japanese food with my mother. There were all sorts of strange food at our house; that was just a normal thing.

Favorite meal growing up:
Satay with spicy peanut sauce. My grandmother on my dad’s side is Indo-Dutch. Growing up, our grandparents lived in the Netherlands. So it was a treat when they came out.

Where did you grow up?

Most important attribute you look for in a sous chef:
Attitude. We work in close quarters and have to spend a lot of time together.

A stereotype about your industry and whether it’s true:
We work a lot. It’s true.

What do you suggest for first-timers?
Brunch. We do an amazing brunch at Las Brisas. Plated, four courses and tons of champagne. If you’re further inland, Who Song and Larry’s brunch will blow you away. Buffet-style and lots of mimosas.

Where did you learn molecular gastronomy?
[From the] Internet, and I worked for Jose Andres in Vegas.

What other skills do you have outside of the kitchen?
Kind of a one-trick pony. I do a little bit of ceramics on my off time, but I only make skulls in the style of dia de los muertos. It sounds creepy, but they are cool.

One food you can’t live without:
Pig skin. It’s delicious.

Hardest lesson you’ve learned:
Don’t take work too seriously. I’m still working on this lesson.

What would you be doing if you weren’t in this business?
I have no idea. That would suck. Probably something that made tons of money.

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