Back in June, Edwin wrote about the second location being built for The Trough Sandwich Kitchen in Newport Beach. The Trough is from the same group that launched The Blind Pig in Rancho Santa Margarita. Since successful South County concepts are tough to come by, it was about time I learned more about the man in the kitchen.
Where does the restaurant's name come from?
It was one of few code names for places to drink during the Prohibition Era. You could only drink at a speakeasy, and we're striving to evoke a similar vibe. We want guests to come as they are, and eat and drink to their heart's content.
One stereotype about your industry, and whether it's true.
It requires a lot of late nights. Yes, it definitely does.
Your best recent food find:
Tuna empanadas from Puerto Madero in Santa Ana.
What are some of your signature items?
Surprisingly, our more ethnic takes are very popular in South County. At The Blind Pig, our take on a Filipino classic dish called sisig has become a signature dish. We make it with pig cheek and ear, top it with housemade pickled peppers and champagne sabayon, then serve it with freshly grilled toast. At The Trough, the chashu pork sandwich is the most ordered (with marinated boiled egg, arugula, housemade kewpie mayo and pickled ginger on a cornmeal roll).
Is there anything you'd like to learn how to make?
Ketchup that tastes and feels like Heinz's. But I'm pretty pleased with the version we make in-house.
Most undervalued ingredient:
Distilled vinegar – I use it all the time in pickling and sauces.
We heard you like to grill at home. What do you like cooking?
I'll be the first to admit that my grilling skills are not fully developed! But I'm learning by grilling different kinds of meats, and learning how to pair them with other grilled items like fruits and greens. I don't get a ton of time to experiment, but I love the aspect of grilling being an interactive experience. It's easy to entertain guests while grilling.
Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Try to make your sauces from scratch – it's fairly easy to make an aioli, and you can make it in bulk to use more than once. Plus, you know exactly what's in it and can alter the ingredients to match your tastes or accommodate dietary restrictions.
Favorite places to eat.
Pho Lu in Garden Grove and Honda Ya in Tustin. My guilty pleasure is Flame Broiler.
Strangest customer request (and did you do it?):
Someone called in one time asking to speak to me about gluten free options. We went through everything, and I told them to come in and I'll make them happy. When they arrived, they asked me to weigh out the whole meal from protein to starch, sauce, all the way down to the amount of cooked and uncooked vegetables. I did it, but not sure I would again!
We distinctly recall seeing a Yelp review posted inside the restaurant. Care to share the story behind that?
When we first opened, there were quite a few people who didn't take us seriously and expected us to fail. We were taking some risks in South County in terms of cuisine offerings. That review in particular said the restaurant would not last more than six months, so we displayed it as motivation to prove them wrong. Here we are now, busier than ever with two new Trough Sandwich Kitchens, and a great crowd of regulars– including the gentleman who wrote that review. We stayed true to ourselves and worked really hard, and we're really proud of how far we've come!
Tell us about your other concept, The Trough. What makes it different from other sandwich shops?
We work with quality ingredients, rely on proper cooking technique and prep about 90% of our menu from scratch. Also, we hire experienced cooks and run the shop like a real kitchen – our guests get restaurant quality sandwiches at an affordable price.
Tell us about your very first restaurant industry job. What made you keep going?
My first job started as an unpaid stage at the Crosby in Downtown Santa Ana. I worked under Aron Habiger and Linh Nguyen. I had no idea what I was doing in the kitchen – I spent months picking cilantro, chopping parsley and bruising basil (unsuccessfully) trying to chiffonade it. I never gave up, and eventually I learned a few things and moved on to paid gigs. I kept coming back to Aron, since he is a great mentor and molded me as a young chef; and Linh taught me the basics and fundamentals of working in a kitchen. I aspired to be as successful and talented as them, and now I'm Executive Chef of a successful restaurant group, after starting as the opening Sous Chef. I'm really lucky.
What's the one thing people didn't tell you about working in a restaurant?
You can't plan for everything. And even when you do, something will usually go wrong. But when you have a supportive and talented team, like I'm blessed to have, you learn to tackle issues as they come, and as a family. It definitely makes things easier.