The award for mini-chain that took Costa Mesa by storm goes to Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop. Open since last spring, Jonathan Rollo and Kristi Ritchey helped to bring sexy back to a mild-mannered strip along 17th Street. With meals that are neither strictly vegan nor tasteless, Greenleaf's menu includes organic wine-bar options, pizzas we don't feel guilty about and a marketplace of to-go options and local artisan products for those on the move. We give Rollo the third degree as he tackles our chef questionnaire.
Your earliest food memory:
Sitting on the kitchen stool while watching my mom assemble meals–breakfast, dinner or even sack lunches.
Favorite meal growing up:
Apple-cinnamon baked pancakes.
Your best recent food find:
Greenleaf's huevos rancheros. My team updated the recipe, and I couldn't help but eat it with a HUGE smile on my face.
Most undervalued ingredient:
Maybe not the most undervalued, but different kinds of vinegars can go a long way. Rice-wine and apple-cider, for example–their flavors can singularly enhance a dish or be as simple as a dressing or marinade.
What is the philosophy behind Greenleaf's concept?
Providing the highest quality fresh ingredients will allow our customers to eat better and discover you don't have to give up flavor or taste in order to make healthy choices.
Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
Backyard honey. It's amazing. Obviously the local produce and fruit is second to none, but the honey is awesome.
What is your beverage of choice?
Currently, San Pellegrino sparkling water with blood orange. Although, I am a fan of sparkling rose–it goes with practically everything.
Where else do you plan on expanding to besides OC Mart Mix?
I have my sights set on Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Downtown LA, Pasadena, Studio City and Calabasas, just to name a few.
Could you explain a vent-less hood system.
First thing that comes to mind is "Yikes!" It's expensive, but basically, it's a self-contained hood system that filters the air instead of just sending it out the side of a building. The system removes grease, any pollutants and carbon emissions air and recycles it.
One food you can't live without:
Pomegranates. I'm obsessed. Easily my favorite fruit. I use the seeds in everything: salads, sauces, cereal, drinks, protein shakes, etc.
Where was your most recent meal?
I made a quick salad of arugula, quinoa, grilled butternut squash, pomegranate seeds and chicken. A little olive oil, lemon juice and salt. Done.
Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Cook in batches. Soups, pastas and starches (such as quinoa), marinades, sauces, etc. Save yourself the time.
What's growing in the on-site garden?
Right now, it's lemons and greens.
We love the aesthetic of the dining area. What are your signature elements?
My family tables and chairs. I turned my mom's breakfast table and my third-grade desk into dining tables on our patio!
Kristi Ritchey. I know she works with me, but I feel blessed to work with someone who inspires me every day–not to mention, she made a bouillabaisse for a dinner party we catered last weekend that blew my mind!
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten:
Chocolate-covered ants. Fried grasshoppers. Snake heart. Don't worry, you find any of those on the Greenleaf menu.
Favorite places to eat (besides your own):
In LA, Ado Venice. In OC, Tabu Shabu after work. It's open late, and I love the sukiyaki.
You're making breakfast. What are you having?
A breakfast burrito–filled with egg whites, our black-bean-and-roasted-corn salsa and a little avocado pesto. Yes, please!
We read you worked for the Patina Group at the Hollywood Bowl. What was cooking for such high-volume crowds like?
Every service was different because every concert crowd was different. We could swing from selling 10,000 hot dogs and 300 kegs of beer for the Rolling Stones one night to 900 luxurious sit-down dinners with paired wines for the Philharmonic the next night. Talking about having to think on your feet, literally!
Weirdest customer request (and did you do it?):
The weirdest are usually the chicken sandwich without the chicken OR the tuna quesadilla without the tortillas. But the two strangest are an order for cold gazpacho heated up (with ice cubes on the side) and a rare steak, cooked through, but no blood on the plate. I'm sorry, but I still don't understand that one.
Most requested salads?
Our two most popular salads are the Antioxidant Orchard and lemongrass chicken. Between the three locations, we make 150 to 200 a day!