On the Line: Renieri Caceres of Rustica in Fashion Island, Part Two

Today, we continue our Q&A with Renieri Caceres, the executive chef at Rustica in Fashion Island.

If you missed the first part, click here to read it. And stay tuned tomorrow for a recipe.


What show would you pitch to the Food Network?
A Food Journey–I think it would be a huge, eye-opening experience to see
how food is grown, picked, processed and finally served for us to eat.

Weirdest thing you've ever eaten:
Live baby eels. It was a Fear Factor moment, but in this business, you have to be willing to try everything at least once.

You're making an omelet. What's in it?
Bacon, bacon, bacon, and don't forget cheese.

You're at the market. What do you buy two of?
Cereal and milk. It's a family favorite, so you can never have enough.

Weirdest customer request:
I have not had any really weird requests here in Orange County, but the one that keeps me up at night was in Las Vegas. A guest ordered half a lobster tail and 4 ounces of caviar with melted cheese over the top. The horror!!

Favorite OC restaurant(s) other than your own:
Well, to be honest, since I just moved out here from Las Vegas, I haven't had the chance to eat at enough places yet. Although, I have heard great things and cannot wait to try out some of the local hotspots. Suggestions?

Hardest lesson you've learned:
The hardest lesson I have learned is that no matter what you think as a chef, it is never about you. It's about what makes your guest happy. Don't get me wrong–not that we enjoy altering our created-to-perfection cuisines with melted cheese (see weirdest request), but after all, your guest could have gone any other place, and they chose you.

What would the last meal on Earth be?
My mother's menudo. It's her Honduran specialty dish that takes two days of TLC to make. And it's well-worth the wait!

Who's your hero? Culinary or otherwise?
My mother. I don't have the words to describe how great she is. She worked very hard to shape me into the man I am today and never once asked for anything in return. She is amazing.

What cuisine that you are unfamiliar with would you want to learn more about and why?
Barbecue. It is one of the most underrated types of cuisine. You have to have serious love for food to perfect the art of barbecue. There is something fascinating about finding the right combination of 32 spices for a rub and slow-cooking a beautiful piece of meat for 16 hours. Now that's dedication to your product.

You've worked with Gordon Ramsey. Spill the beans: Is he as abrasive as he seems on TV?
Of all the kitchens I have ever worked, it was by far the most intense. I'm not afraid to yell and swear in the heat of the moment, but things I heard even made me blush. Chef Ramsey's three stars come with intense passion.

Before this, you worked in Las Vegas for quite a while. What do you miss about Vegas?
I miss being able to go out for fantastic food at 1 in the morning.

What won't you miss about Vegas?
It's a toss-up. Either having all your friends think that every time they come into town, it's time to party (you included), or having your shoes melt into the pavement on a summer's day.

What do you think of Orange County when compared to Vegas?
I will let you know once I get a chance to experience the great things Orange County has to offer.

You were chef de cuisine under your predecessor at Rustica, Grant MacPherson. Now that you're the executive chef, what should we expect to be different at the restaurant?
Only chef Grant with his years of experience could have successfully acquired the staff to set up and lay the foundation for Rustica. Now that he has fulfilled his goal, we can focus on expressing my style and values about food. I hope our loyal guests and newbies can appreciate what we now offer and appreciate the differences.

What will be unchanged?
Our commitment to the food.

Have you or will you order a pizza from a chain. And if you had to, which chain would it be from?
I would be lying if I told you I never ate pizza from a chain, but it always tastes better when it's done with love and attention to the details.

What dish would you tell newcomers to try first?
It would be our short ribs. My mentor and former employer Mark Lorusso taught me there is nothing better than something that is braised for six hours.

What would you be doing if you weren't in this business?
I can't believe I'm going to say this, but I would have been a firefighter. It really says something about a man when he is willing to risk his life for another. Besides what good would a firehouse be without a good cook.

What advice do you have for those who might be thinking about a career in food?
Besides realizing it's such a huge commitment, buy a pair of really comfortable shoes, and the sooner you accept that you will always be working when everyone else is playing, the better.

What do you see yourself doing in five years? Ten years?
Putting up really good food!!

Rustica, 1133 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 706-8282; www.rusticafashionisland.com.

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