The opportunity to interview is always a pleasure, but to be invited to spend the day with a subject is another story– especially when it involves an establishment I already enjoy dining at. I joined Executive Chef Raj Dixit and Michael Mina at the Santa Monica farmers market for a tour and lunch one recent morning. While there was still shop talk on the drive up, having the two outside of a kitchen made for a relaxed atmosphere.
This week, we divide up the interview between both chefs. Today's installment features Stonehill Tavern's main man. I saved Mina's responses for tomorrow.
One stereotype about your industry, and whether it's true.
Chefs have egos! You're only as good as your last plate and meal.
Did your work experience teach you something that you didn't learn in culinary school?
How important the psychology of the restaurant can be.
Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
Oranges? (laughs) No, Cal-Mex food.
Most undervalued ingredient.
Celery. It gets abused by chefs, but has such a delicate flavor.
Let's discuss your philosophy of "Less is more"
When faced with a difficult juxtaposition on flavor combinations, take away one. . . two . . .three components from the plate. It always makes the synthesis speak louder!
What's on your tasting menu this season?
You will have to come in to find out.
Wait– we also read there's a separate Vegetable Discovery tasting menu.
We wanted to challenge ourselves and the guests to take a journey and let us cook a meal that put the vegetables forward and didn't have any boundaries.
Could you tell us some of the local farmers you work with?
Alex Weiser of Weiser Family Farms, McGrath Family Farms, Nic Romano of Villa Romano Green Farms and Harry's Berries.
Favorite places to eat.
Taiko (Irvine), Pizzeria Mozza (Newport), La Ciccia (San Francisco).
Most frequently asked question by guests.
Do you cook at home?
Where did you grow up, and where do you call home?
Home is where my family is, so California and New Jersey.
Best culinary tip for the home cook.
Buy a wet stone and sharpen your knives before cooking. Karma is king when using your tools. They like attention.
Favorite meal growing up.
Hands down a Napoli style pizza.
Where would be your last meal on Earth?
Massimo Bottura's Osteria Francescana in Italy, Michel Bras' Restaurant Bras in France, and Andoni Aduriz's Mugaritz in Spain.
What's the one thing people didn't tell you about working in a restaurant?
That it will be an addiction.