On the Line: Kevin Nagano of Sage Cafe, Part One

Kevin Nagano specialized in front-of-the-house operations before he chose to open his own space. Armed with a single griddle and a pocketful of well-crafted recipes, he is changing the way diners think about salads, sandwiches and soups. This week, On the Line chats with the hungry guy cooking things up at Sage Cafe. One thing's for sure: Kevin loves his comfort food and country music.

What are six words that describe your food?

Eclectic, bold, layered, from the heart.

What are eight words that describe you?

Focused, intense, curious, intelligent, dedicated, caring, hungry, passionate.

Your best recent food find:
Growers Ranch/Penjoyan Produce. They have a great selection and are so good to small businesses like us.

Most undervalued ingredient:
Cracked-pepper blends. You can change flavors so much–especially with white pepper.

Rules of conduct in your kitchen:
Always anticipate, never settle for okay, and keep moving.

One food you detest:
Frozen mixed vegetables: mushy peas, rubber carrot cubes–need I say more?

One food you can't live without:
Kagome Tonkatsu sauce in the square bottle. It can go on anything.

Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
Small produce markets and purveyors.

What fast food do you admit to eating?
Taco Bell. It's consistent and cheap, and I've been eating it for too long to stop now.

Best culinary tip for the home cook:

Make every recipe your own. Add and subtract till you like it; other people will, too.

After-work hangout:
Poolside with my family because it's refreshing and a place to smile and unwind, with no pressure on my legs.

Favorite celebrity chef:

Jamie Oliver for what he's trying to do for our kids.

Celebrity chef who should shut up:

Giada deLaurentis. I can't stand her pasta pronunciations.

Favorite music to cook by:
Upbeat country, like Toby Keith and Blake Shelton, and Chicago.

Best food city in America:

San Francisco because of the fresh seafood and influences of the early immigrants.

What you'd like to see more of in Orange County from a culinary standpoint:
Some down-home, authentic Hawaiian food.

What you'd like to see less of in Orange County from a culinary standpoint:
Chain restaurants.

Favorite cookbooks:

I like searching for old cookbooks at thrift stores to find old personal recipes, then playing with them, especially for comfort food.

When you're not in the kitchen cooking, what are you doing?

See my answer to “After-work hangout.”

Weirdest thing you've ever eaten:

Jones Soda Co.'s Turkey & Gravy soda. I was amazed by its line of holiday sodas and the way they mimicked the flavors.

You're making breakfast. What are you having?

Unique fried rices with leftovers.

You're at the market. What do you buy two of?

Ice cream. It's my weakness, and I like variety. My favorite is the mint chocolate chip flavor, but not from Breyers.

Weirdest customer request:
To cook and serve a meal for a customer's first date after I got off work. [Editor's note: He never cooked the meal.]

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