Tom Hope is a man with an agenda. His kitchen experiences have placed him in locations most of us want to spend a vacation, not work. This world view has shaped his approach in the kitchen, from the importance of sourcing ingredients to the value of proper cooking technique. These are only a couple of the responsibilities he carries as culinary director of The Catch in Anaheim. Did we mention he also has great taste in pizza?
Explain what it means to be a culinary director. How do you exercise quality control?
As culinary director, I am in charge of all things related to kitchen operations. I wear many hats during the course of a day, but that is what makes my job so exciting.
Quality control starts with your vendors, purchasing the best quality, then receiving goods properly when they hit the back door. The next phase of quality control has to do with mis en place, which refers to preparation. Following recipes with meticulous perfection and portioning correctly. We do a line check each shift to ensure all ingredients are perfect. And finally, we have a number of checks and balances during service to ensure that all food leaving the kitchen is presented to our set standards.
I work with Joe Manzella and our talented chefs on all aspects of R&D to create new menus and specials.
Gordon Ramsey. I love his personality on TV, his attention to detail, rigid standards, incredible technique and overall control of a kitchen crew.
What is your beverage of choice, and where do you get it?
Moscow mule at my house. I don't get out much. I just got a copper cup recently.
How would you explain the differences between The Catch and your sister restaurants, TAPS?
The main difference is that TAPS is a brewery where we brew our own beer, and The Catch has 20 craft beers on tap. Both restaurants sell fish and steaks. The Catch has some tableside cooking and prime steaks, TAPS has an oyster bar and charcuterie.
Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Focus on technique. Most things will taste best if done with proper technique.
Most undervalued ingredient.
Grape seed oil. I used to use it more at my old job. It has a high smoking point and a very neutral flavor. If you want something that has no flavor, or you want to saute, it's very versatile. It's a little more expensive; that's why people don't use it.
What do you recommend for first-timers?
Cioppino if you are a seafood and fish lover. It's the best of both worlds. You get fresh fish, scallops, shrimp, calamari, clams and mussels all simmered in a spicy tomato broth.
Your earliest food memory:
Cooking Italian Sunday dinner with my grandmother and mother. We would make sausage, raviolis, pasta, tomato sauce and all kinds of traditional Italian cuisine.
Could you tell us what constitutes a great pasta sauce?
A great pasta sauce starts with the freshest ingredients: great Italian plum tomatoes, Italian red wine, garden fresh herbs and solid technique.
Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
Food trucks around. Every year, there's a food truck event in Corona, and it's usually like 40-50 trucks there. I like the randomness and the ability to get really nice food instantly off a truck. I just went to a graduation party where they had the Korean/taco truck (but it wasn't Kogi). I've also watched Food Truck Wars on TV. I'm also a lover of the New York street carts. I'm a sucker for the generic food trucks at construction sites.
At the National Restaurant Show, I sat in on a forum on food trucks. We were thinking of doing one ourselves for TAPS or Catch. We thought it would be great for catering and to get our brand out there. Ludo Lefebvre was there discussing his food truck, along with other chefs. They talked about how hard it is to run. After listening to them, I thought, screw it. It's not worth the investment. We just don't have enough people.
Tell us about working with Roy Yamaguchi.
Working in Hawaii with Roy was a great stepping stone in my career. I learned about fusion cuisine, ocean to restaurant seafood, farm to table produce and cultural diversity. What a great melting pot of phenomenal ingredients and cultures to have at your fingertips to create incredible food.
One food you can't live without.
Pizza. It is so diverse and has so many different varieties.
Your best recent food find:
Tony's Little Italy (deep dish, Chicago-style pizza). Closest to Chicago-style pizza that I have found in So Cal. I've probably been there, like, 80 times. And they finally, FINALLY know my name. I talk to them every time I go in. There is no place like it. That pizza is so much better there than when you take it home.
You know the secret for taking it home? Tell them, “Don't cut it.” Ask them for the whole pie. Put it in the oven for 15 minutes at 350-degrees, slide it right on the rack. And then take it out and cut it. It will taste like it just came out of the oven. I like Tony's Special. It's the sausage, mushroom, pepper and green onion.
Is there a dish that you'd like to learn how to make?
I would like to learn how to make charcuterie.
Favorite meal growing up:
My mom's tuna melt sandwiches on seeded rye bread. It was my go-to sandwich growing up.
Where was your most recent meal?
Napa Rose. What didn't I have? Andrew Sutton is a culinary stud. We had scallops, hamachi, pork, duck, sea bream, cheese, wine and dessert. It was AWESOME.
Strangest thing you've ever eaten:
Cicadas. In the Midwest, every 17 years they have this big cicada infestation. These big-winged locusts are slow-moving, crawling up in the trees. You can season them, grill them, pour some barbecue sauce and eat them. They're crunchy and not bad. I can see why other cultures eat bugs. I'm not running back to do it again.
You're making breakfast. What are you having?
Toad in the hole with OC Baking brioche pan loaf, bacon, hash browns, fresh fruit, orange juice, French press coffee.
Favorite places to eat (besides your own).
Girl and the Goat (Chicago), The Bazaar (Los Angeles), Wayfare Tavern (San Francisco), Frontera Grill (Chicago) and The Publican (Chicago).
I have a system when I travel. I'll make reservations months out at all the coolest places. I don't like to do full meals at restaurants. I like to experience the decor, the service style, so I want to see as much as I can while I'm out there. So I'll make 4:30 or 5 p.m. or happy hour reservations somewhere and stay for an hour and-a-half. I set up the map so I'm going in the same direction.
The exhibition kitchen is gorgeous. Are there any pros or cons to operating such a large, open space?
Cooking in an exhibition kitchen is all pros. It forces you to work clean, organized and in a professional manner. All eyes are on the kitchen; people love to watch as meals are prepared.
Weirdest customer request (and did you do it?):
We had a guest ask for a full vegan menu in advance, and said emphatically that they could not eat ANY animal products. We did a killer five-course, full vegan menu. When it was time for the dessert course, the guest asked for a chocolate souffle. I told them there was egg and butter in the souffle. They said, “Oh, we don't care. We just really want a souffle.” Of course, I did it for them. But not happily.