On the Line: Lauren 'Lulu' De Rouen of CUCINA enoteca, Part Two

The beat goes on with chef Lauren “Lulu” De Rouen as we continue our shop talk, discussing CUCINA's specialty food and drink selections. Her thirst for knowledge is evident as she shares stories about her culinary adventures from both around the world and close to home. We get the feeling her incredible energy can power the entire restaurant if there were an outage. Learn the basics about her in part one, but stay tuned for a dish worthy of your favorite bottle of [insert beverage choice here] tomorrow.

Hardest lesson you've learned:
That with great success comes great sacrifice.

What would your last meal on Earth be?
My dad's corn-and-seafood bisque.

Who's your hero, culinary or otherwise?
My big sister, Danielle. We have dug our way out of ditches together, both professionally and personally.

Tell us about your food-service-industry background.
I learned everything I know about the culinary arts from Orange Coast College and Patina Restaurant Group.

What brought you to your first kitchen job?
I started in a pizza place at Hermosa Pier. Pepe taught me how to make dough. It got to the point I was running the place with my girlfriends and turning a profit for them.

How did you end up in Spain?
I was working at Leatherby's, and the timing was right. I had a plane ticket and a phone number. For three months, I would work as a stagier in some incredible kitchens. I also learned to drive stick shift.

As a female chef, tell us about working in a male-dominated industry.
I grew up with a thick skin, and that has helped. Like baseball, there's no crying in the kitchen, and I have never pulled the “girl” card.

Why Orange County over Los Angeles County for your newest branch?
Orange County offers a much better environment and lifestyle.

Please educate readers on your polenta boards.
Our polenta boards have become a signature CUCINA dish. We spread a layer of creamy mascarpone polenta on a board and top it with a ragu that changes daily. It is perfect for sharing!

When a guest requests gluten-free pasta, does that change the integrity of the dish? Do you need to make any additional modifications to make up for it?
Gluten-free products have come a long way. There is always a way to avoid compromising the integrity of any dish; it just requires creativity.

Tell us about the selection at the wine shop.
Our wine program features nearly 150 bottles, with a focus on the Americas–North and South–as well as the Mediterranean regions of Italy, France and Spain. Many of the labels that are on our shelves are boutique in nature, with small batch production and a strong commitment to sustainable practices.

That's an impressive cocktail list. . . . Do you have a favorite?
My favorite cocktails are the That's What She Said and the basil gimlet. Both very much represent our commitment to offering awesome combinations of flavors throughout our cocktail program. All of our drinks are excellent

We hear you work with OC Baking.
Yes. Dean Kim makes incredible ciabatta, olive and garlic breads specially for us.

What dish would you tell newcomers to CUCINA enoteca to try first?
I could eat the bucatini all'amatriciana every day! [Editor's Note: It has something to do with curing bacon for seven days and rendering the fat in the dish. Works for us!]

What would you be doing if you weren't in this business?
To be honest, there was never anything else I wanted to do; I just always knew I wanted to be a chef.

What advice do you have for those who might be thinking about a career in food?
You have to have thick skin and determination. Make sure you are always learning; if you stop learning, then move on.

What do you see yourself doing in five years? Ten years?
I want to continue producing beautiful food, mentoring young talent and enjoying life.

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