On the Line: Mina Sacramento Of Shuck Oyster Bar

The OC Mix in Costa Mesa specializes in many things. But the one I’m focusing on this week involves oysters, as we get to know Shuck Oyster Bar’s resident chef, Mina Sacramento. Just don’t call her “Chef”, as she explains below.

I first met you at a charity event. Are you involved in any upcoming activities?
I’ll be doing the Newport Beach Film Festival in April, but I’ve been trying to collab with other artists to do pop-ups. I have a few tricks up my sleeve.

Your best recent food find:
Erizos con huevo: Fresh sea urhin scrambled eggs, miso butter toast with caviar by the ever-so-talented Amar Santana at Vaca in Costa Mesa.

What advice do you have for someone learning to appreciate oysters?
Just dive in. No pun intended. More importantly, make sure you’re getting them from a reputable place like Shuck. We get them straight from the farmer, so we are getting them the same day out of the water. We also take care in cleaning them well and shucking them very clean.

How would you guide someone in selecting what oysters to order?
I first go by coasts: West to East. I’m more of a West Coast kind of girl. It’s been fun learning about different oysters, and the differences in how they are farmed and where they are farmed. Always order two of each; first one you taste and take in all the flavors. The second one you can try with a touch of lemon or our house made mignonette and Fresno chile hot sauce.

When you’re not in the kitchen, what are you doing in your free time?
I like to go to shows. I’m always surrounded by music. I have a different soundtrack for prep, during service and for breaking down.

Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Keep cooking. Keep refining your recipes. Cook for people you love.

Where did you grow up, and where do you call home these days?
I traveled quite a bit. Home was always a weird concept for me. Home now is where the heart is. My heart is in Brooklyn, Berkeley, Malaysia, Philippines and Hawaii (where my family is).

Favorite meal growing up:
Kare-kare  (Filipino ox-tail soup, my Tita Lorna’s recipe) and pozole (my Tia Margie’s recipe).

Hardest lesson you’ve learned:
Being an adult. I want to be a kid again. Not worry about mortgage and focus on getting good grades. Life was so much more simple then. Or even early on in my culinary career where I only worked one station. That seems like a dream now. Sometimes I just want to cook; there’s a lot of paperwork and numbers I have to do now.

You’ve had a few other professions before settling on chef. Could you tell us about being a flight attendant. Why you originally chose the profession, and what made you switch to something else?
I originally wanted to travel and see the world (which I did in my early twenties). Best decision I ever made. I was also a graphic designer before that. I’ve always had an artistic side. I feel like being a chef now is sort of the same. It’s just a medium now. My canvases are my plates; the food is my medium. And traveling showed me different “artists” and styles. 

Tell us something most people don’t know about you.
I’m sure everyone knows, but I don’t like being called Chef. None of my crew does. Or, if they do, it’s to poke fun at me. I’m still learning and evolving. I am nothing without my crew. They all have a very integral part in the kitchen.
I’m supposed to ask you about “Stiletto Chef”.
Shhhh. That’s a secret. It’s kind of evolved lately. I’ll come in on my days off sometimes in civilian clothing: dress, heels and all; working the line because someone called out or was coming in late. But it kind of all started when I would come in to a friend’s restaurant (all dolled up) and I would get hungry and make myself food in his kitchen, sharpen their knives or help out if they were weeded, in six-inch heels. They even talked about having a sign up saying, “The Stiletto Chef is in” (laughs).

Where was your most recent meal?
I just recently visited Vaca, as mentioned previously. I had a little bit of everything on his tapas menu. I highly recommend going there.

One stereotype about your industry, and whether it’s true. 
I don’t know. I don’t really pay attention to that kind of stuff. We could go on a tangent about females in a male-dominated industry, and finding an identity in that. But there’s a lot of talented female chefs I look up to and follow their careers.

Do you find yourself going out more for meals, or cooking at home?
I’ve recently started cooking more at home. It’s been fun cooking for two. Before, the last thing I wanted to do when I got home from work was cook. But it’s different now, cooking for someone you love.

You’re making breakfast; what are you having?
I keep it pretty simple. I recently made (for my morning crew), toad in the hole, sprinkled with Parmesan. And a side of avocados and bacon, garnished with chives and Fresno chiles.

What kinds of desserts do you enjoy?
I like making my own ice creams. I’m obsessed with red Skittles. I made a sorbet that tasted exactly like it. I do indulge in Air Head popsicles. If you haven’t tried it, you’re missing out. Plus, those jokes on the sticks get me every time.

Last book read; how was it?
I was skimming through a Lonely Planet book of Costa Rica. Still have that travel bug in me, I guess. But most of the time, I’m reading books on chefs. I like learning about their backgrounds and their techniques.

Let’s discuss your culinary schooling in Spain and the Philippines. How did they differ?
I only studied pastry and bakery arts, and I did a few chocolate classes in Spain. It was mostly to travel through the islands to get to know the culture and take in the view. Now, I’m a chef/partner at Shuck. I guess I was fortunate enough to know some really good people that led me to where I am now. Thanks guys! Love you, Bobby! Love you, Len! 

One food you can’t live without;
That’s a hard question. The type of food I can’t live without is Thai food. I love the balance of salty, sour and sweet.

What would you like to be doing if you weren’t in this business?
I’ve always been interested in architecture and interior design. It was the main reason why I loved Spain so much. Seeing the Guggenheim in Bilbao was amazing, and also seeing the fluid movements of Gaudi. I was so fascinated by it.

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