With a multitasking nature and the cutest 3-year-old vegetarian for a son, chef Lindsay Smith-Rosales has a great deal to juggle as chef and owner of Nirvana Grille. Fortunately, she found the time to discuss some of her favorite things, like dairy and spike. FYI: She admitted completing this at 2 a.m., when nobody was around and she could concentrate (might explain the extra words used to describe herself and her cuisine).
What are six words that describe your food?
Fresh, bright flavors, thoughtful, quality, sustainable, all-natural, seasonal.
What are at least eight words that describe you?
Perfectionist, multitasker, extrovert, cuisine, overdedicated workaholic, strong-willed, passionate, entrepreneur, charismatic, overachiever.
You best recent food find:
Branzino, i.e., Mediterranean sea bass, i.e., Loup de Mer.
Most undervalued ingredient:
Shallots have an underlying flavor that is not in your face. We use it in more than a dozen dishes. It has such versatility.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen:
No cell phones. Clean as you go. Think ahead, and set yourself up for the next day for success. Always be humble that you don't know it all. Ask for help, and ask questions. If you don't know the answer, find it out. Know the menu and believe in what you are serving. Never send something out that you would not eat. Fix the problem, no matter what the circumstance, to not affect the guest's experience.
One food you detest.
Organ meats. Growing up vegetarian, and now even cooking meats, I do not have the appreciation, textural desire or palate for such things; and there is no desire to try them any time soon.
One food you can't life without and why:
Dairy. Too many good things come from it: butter, cheese, cream, milk, creme fraiche, more cheese!
Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
Support from local chefs to make a difference. We all come together and are very often the same recognized chefs who want to impact the greater good from what we have the gift to do. I think as far as food, there is nothing extraordinary about what we have compared to culinary areas such as Northern California.
What fast food do you admit to eating?
Del Taco's GRILLED red burrito. If it is not grilled, the cheese is not melted, and it is not the same. It is the healthiest that I can get, and I think that it is the simple pleasure when I forget to eat at the end of the night; and for some reason, it's very craveable when pregnant.
Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Keep it simple and buy what is in the season to have the best flavor you can with your foods. If you don't find it at the farmers' market, it is probably not in season locally, and you have an item that may come from across the world to eat it.
Home to my husband and 3-year-old son, or in the office until the street sweepers come at 4 a.m., getting work done when it is quiet.
Favorite celebrity chef.
Alice Waters' inspiration to involve children in knowing where food comes from and why we should eat seasonally and eat as fresh as possible while having a true understanding for classic and creative cuisine highlights the best in foods. [Editor's Note: *Whew*!]
Celebrity chef who should shut up.
Sandra Lee. What is cooking when you are using everything out of a can and processed? It contributes to the problem we have with so much convenience food. I am all for making things easy, but there are many better choices to allow families to eat better and quicker with fresh quality ingredients.
Favorite music to cook by:
Joni Mitchell forever, I think, or Adele right now.
Best food city in America:
I have not traveled the states enough at this point to say. From where I have been, San Francisco/Napa areas have the quality and farm availability at their surrounding areas to support great food and be a culinary mecca for the food revolution of organics, farm-to-table and seasonal fare.
What you'd like to see less of in Orange County from a culinary standpoint:
Fads, ego and pretentiousness in the kitchen. Just make food that is not about what far-fetched idea you can do to spin it. Keep it simple. and keep it good. I'm really not into the foams, gelés and other foods you may ask if you should be eating or just looking at. I like real food.
I don't have just one. I love too many, and I think there are so many interpretations with food, which is what I love. I really don't read recipes, but rather, I look for inspiring combinations that I may not have thought of. I pull from many places.
When you're not in the kitchen cooking, what are you doing?
Everything!!!! I own my own business without a huge corporate team. If I am not at work doing the catering, advertising, menus, training, human resources, hiring, vendor relations, customer relations, website, etc., then I am with my family enjoying time with my son and husband. We love to travel or take little day trips down to San Diego to Legoland, the zoo and Sea World.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten:
I grew up vegetarian, vegan, so to many, brewers yeast is an odd thing that we loved on popcorn with an all-natural seasoning called “spike.” [Editor's Note: Check your local spice aisle; it's in a red box.] To some, this is weird, I guess it is based on interpretation. I really have not gone for the really far-out culinary experience.
You're making breakfast. What are you having?
Crepes or waffles with strawberries and fresh whipped cream. Chilaquiles with avocado, or poached eggs with toast, tomatoes and crisp potatoes — and a nice big latte.
You're at the market. What do you buy two of?
Avocados, Have a Chips and artichokes. Since I was young, it has been a family favorite of mashed avocado with spike and cottage cheese eaten with Have a Corn Chips. The artichokes, my son, Diego, and I just like as a snack, or share as part of dinner.
Weirdest customer request:
Someone wanted to bring in meat that they shot from a hunting trip and show off to some friends. We were happy to try some new things. It was about four years ago; I can't even remember what they brought.
Nirvana Grille has locations in Mission Viejo and Laguna Beach. Click here for the website.