If there's one thing chefs like to discuss, it's food. Fortunately, that's one of my favorite topics. Hanging out with Julio Hawkins reminds me that there's always more to learn from a certain dish. He's taken some of our favorite seafood meals and tailored them to his tastes. The results: unexpected depth and a newfound appreciation for some of the classics.
Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Mise en place, Mise en place, Mise en place. Translation = everything in its place, both mentally and physically. That's why so many home cooks freak out when trying to execute Thanksgiving dinner. You've got to be organized to truly enjoy the holiday season. Get your shopping list together (mental) and then execute the prep (physical).
You are an advocate for sustainable seafood. Please elaborate on where you source some of your dishes from.
We source most of our seafood through Santa Monica Seafood, which in turn works with the Monterey Bay Fish Aquarium to ensure we are in compliance with the World Fisheries fishing practices.
Your earliest food memory:
When I was five years old, I remember my mom grating coconuts, squeezing the milk out of it and then utilizing it in her rice pilaf with yucca, head-on shrimp and red beans (along with several pieces of grouper). I was kind of grossed out about it, and after my mother put a spoon full of the concoction in my mouth, I was completely and utterly blown away. From that point on I never doubted anything my mother ever made again. I became known as the garbage disposal.
Favorite places to eat.
I like everything, from the little hole-in-the-walls to fine dining and everything in-between. I love food!!
What's the story behind your award-winning clam chowder?
Although we have not formally received accolades from any official organization, our loyal guests from around the world have compared us to some of the most prestigious restaurants around, including The Black Pearl in Rhode Island. On one occasion, a gentlemen came into our restaurant and stated that he never orders clam chowder when he leaves the East Coast, because he's always disappointed– until he came to the Fly N Fish. He went on to say that he would put our chowder up against any on the East Coast, because I've tried pretty much every chowder up and down the eastern Seaboard. This has been the response from virtually anyone that has visited us from the East Coast.
And if you read our Trip Advisor and Yelp reviews, you'll notice the overwhelmingly positive response we consistently receive from our guests. I would surmise we are worthy of an award, we just need a competition to enter, such as The Chowderfest San Clemente in October. Behind our chowder, you'll find we painstakingly went through a rigorous R&D process, just to find the right clam juice and bacon. Not to mention additional cooking techniques we applied to achieve our objective. We did not set out to reinvent the wheel, but to enhance the wheel's performance. We brought in 23 different clam juices to solidify the flavor profile we were seeking, coupled with the most amazing bacon on the planet. The bacon itself comes from a family that migrated from Germany after WWII and set up shop in Wisconsin. This family produces triple applewood smoked bacon. I would put it up against any on the planet. It's simply that good!
Where was your most recent meal?
Melisse in Santa Monica. Executive Chef Proprietor is simply a master. Chef Josiah Citrin Rocks the Casbah!
Favorite meal growing up:
Sunday pot roast with potatoes, carrots, celery, rutabagas, onions. I remember coming home from church, and before opening the front door the aroma of the roast was very prevalent from our driveway. It is to die for.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten:
Coconut tree pulp. Tasted like chicken.
Strangest customer request (and did you do it?):
Oyster Cake. And no, I did not.
One food you can't live without:
Oreo Double Stuff Cookies. It's just sinfully good (in moderation). Great for a late night snack with a cold glass of milk. I know what you all must be thinking, but get over it. It's the one little bit of sinful food I get to enjoy, on occasion.
Most undervalued ingredient:
Eggs. People associated it with breakfast or baking mostly, but there are so many applications to the egg that people don't realize. Crème en glace is the mother sauce of the pastry kitchen. Without the egg, you would not be able make crème en glace, which means you wouldn't able to make ice cream, custards, crème brule, chantillys and the like. That's why the top chefs of Europe and around the world will give an egg practical, to test the skill set of the new candidate.
You're making breakfast. What are you having?
I love steak and eggs on a grilled sliced of ciabatta, sliced tomatoes, crumbled blue cheese and topped with a caramelized balsamic onion hollandaise. Yes, I'm that crazy!
Your cioppino is a perfect example of your cooking style. Please explain the thought process behind the dish.
Cioppino thought process: When I was in culinary school in San Francisco (home and origin of the cioppino) I wanted to try as many of them as I could, so I could gauge the different variations. The one common denominator I felt was that they all seemed to possess too much acidity, which masked the natural iodine of the seafood. So I thought to myself, "How could I alter the acidity and not jeopardize the integrity of an already beloved dish?" Well, the solution was the caramelization of additional vegetables and omitting some of the tomatoes. By bringing out the residual sugars, it aided in offsetting the acidity while creating balance, which allows one to fully appreciate the selection of seafood found within the cioppino.
Your best recent food find:
My latest food was at Osteria Mozza. I had the grilled octopus with celery, scallions and fingerling potatoes. To die for!
Culinary speaking, Orange County has the best:
Farm-to-table farmers supplying truly fresh and locally grown produced vegetables, fruits and many other products.
You've served some famous people. Any stories to share about interactions with them?
While being the chef at Wally's Dessert Turtle in Ranch Mirage, California, two black Lincoln Town Cars pulled up in the middle of the day (we were a dinner only establishment), which I found odd. Unbeknownst to me, they had pre-arranged a meeting through our owner to have a private room reserved. Low and behold, it was Mary Bono and John Boehner (pre-Speaker of the House).
While working at another establishment, Matt Damon came in and I spoke to him for a bit. After he was done dining he requested my presence. He took it upon himself to have a photo op with me. He's a very kind and generous man. I was impressed!
At another establishment, while sitting at my desk, I heard a loud booming base of a voice shout "Where's this chef coat I keep hearing about." I looked up and to my dismay, it was James Earl Jones. I nearly fell out of my seat! I had this chef coat that all the celebrities would sign when they came in. I suppose he found out about it and wanted a piece of it. That was the coolest thing ever! Roots, Darth Vader, Lion King, CNN, WOW!!! Are you kidding me?