If you've ever visited a Ritz-Carlton resort, you'll know how skilled the staff is at providing the best possible guest experience. Their dining establishments are prime examples of hospitality. I focus on Laguna Niguel's RAYA, where Steve Wan presents a menu with Latin America influences.
What's the one thing people didn't tell you about working in a restaurant?
No one told me about the amount of tolerance and patience that is required to cook for and work with people from all walks of life. Everyone has different likes and dislikes, and my job is to make sure everyone leaves my restaurant happy, satisfied and wanting to come back.
Most undervalued ingredient:
Vinegar. It's an acid that helps balance fatty dishes, and aids in the denaturing process of cooking or marinating proteins like ceviche.
What is your beverage of choice?
Blind Pig IPA from Russian River Brewery in Santa Rosa (CA).
One food you can't live without:
Sea urchin sushi. I love the cool, sweet and creamy texture.
What do you have in store for the fall menu at RAYA?
I will be bringing back the piloncillo prawns. They were one of our most popular dishes last year so I am sure they will be a welcome addition to the fall menu. I have a few new inspirations as well: chicken mole and a spicy hamachi causa roll.
We know you love to cook with cilantro. What makes it your favorite herb? And for those who cannot stand the taste is there a reasonable substitute?
I like the fresh, citrusy element it adds to a dish. Because there isn't really a substitute for cilantro when it comes to taste, those that don't like it really won't get the full flavor of a dish if they ask to leave out the cilantro.
Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
Orange County offers some of the best sunset dining experiences. Not only are the sunsets amazing, but the restaurants along the coast all have really great menus.
Where was your most recent meal?
Starfish. I had the seafood curry and spicy udon noodles.
Before being promoted to Executive Chef, you were Chef Tournant. Could you explain the difference between the two positions?
As Chef Tournant, I supervised many smaller departments within the entire kitchen. Now as Chef de Cuisine in RAYA, I am responsible one department that is much larger. I oversee 28 cooks in a restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week.
You're making breakfast. What are you having?
Toasted everything bagel, salmon lox, cream cheese, and all the fixings.
One stereotype about your industry, and whether it's true.
If you send your food back, it will be tampered with! That is so FALSE! The last thing I want is for someone to feel that they can't send a dish back. As a Chef, my passion is to cook great food and have respect for all of the ingredients themselves. I try my best to give the customer what they want and how they want it.
Your best recent food find:
Wakamomo. It's a young peach preserved in syrup. It reminds me of the fruit cocktail I used to eat as kid, but it's a little weird yet fun at the same time. I was introduced to it on a recent visit to the Loft.
Favorite meal growing up:
My dad's fried rice.
Your father was a major influence in your desire to cook. Was he in the food service industry?
No, he was just a guy that cooked really good food.
Favorite places to eat.
Sugar Fish, Stonehill Tavern, Broadway, Break of Dawn.
What did you learn (if anything) at the Art Institute of Los Angeles that you might not have learned if you didn't attend?
The Art Institute of Los Angeles gave me a classical foundation. The trend lately in modernist gastronomy is far from the classical cooking methods that pioneered the industry. In kitchens today, immersion circulators, hydrocolloids, and liquid nitrogen have become the standard, and the basics are unpracticed.
A contributing writer for OC Weekly, Anne Marie freelances for multiple online and print publications, and guest judges for culinary competitions. A Bay Area transplant, she graduated with a degree in Hospitality Management from Cal Poly Pomona. Find her on Instagram as brekkiefan.