Orange County native John Ledbetter has been across the country and back, working toward a chef/partner position with Lark Creek Restaurant Group. Launching the first Southern California branch over the summer, its presence is a welcome addition to Fashion Island's dining establishments.
What is your restaurant experience?
I've cooked all over the country. In New Orleans, I worked at Bella Luna, Emeril's and Restaurant August. I moved to New York City, where I worked at Union Square Cafe and Spigolo. I then came back to California and worked at LarkCreekSteak and Bocanova in Northern California.
Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
Avocados. We use them for everything– ceviches, salads and sandwiches. Our pork confit sandwich as these great big chunks of avocado on it.
What do you recommend for first-timers?
Shrimp ceviche or any ceviche on the menu.
Where was your most recent meal?
At ARC, and we had roasted calamari, a tomahawk steak and cocktails that were all great–the Coffee and Cigarettes, in particular.
One food you can't live without:
Jalapeños because I can't have anything not spicy, personally. When I cook at home, it's usually Mexican stuff.
Scott Fratangelo because we worked next to each other for a year and a half at his restaurant in New York, Spigolo. He taught me everything about the business.
As both chef and partner, how does that affect the way you run operations?
I try to just run it the best way I can.
Favorite meal growing up:
Chicken and dumplings.
Your best recent food find:
Any of the street food I had while I was vacationing in Mexico. My wife and I were in Ensenada last February, and the best food we had were the little taco places that we would find while exploring about.
Your earliest food memory:
Watching my mom bake at Christmas. It was when she would bake the most– brownies, cookies and cakes. She also would give her friends baking packages as gifts.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten:
Premature-turkey testicles at Incanto, Chris Cosentino's restaurant in San Francisco. He brought them out for us to try. They tasted like kidney beans.
You're making breakfast. What are you having?
Roasted potatoes, eggs and hot sauce.
Most undervalued ingredient:
Stocks–people don't use them enough, and I use them in everything.
Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Don't be afraid to have a hot pan, and season with salt.
Weirdest customer request (and did you do it?):
To cook beef tartare, and yes, I did.
What is your beverage of choice, and where do you get it?
Bourbon, particularly Makers 46, from the Lark Creek bar.
Favorite places to eat (besides your own):
Dirty, small, dingy Mexican restaurants that have great food. Any place that has street food. I really love simple, spicy, acidic food, which is why I like Mexican food so much.
Most popular item on the brunch menu:
Huevos rancheros or the eggs Benedict.