The Sixth Annual Event Is Going to Bring on the Food, Fun and Funds for the Community
Written By: Locale Editors
Photography Provided By: Illumination Foundation
What do top chefs like Jet Tila, Andrew Sutton and Rich Mead have in common? Besides throwing down works of culinary art in the kitchen, you can watch these guys—and over 40 more of Orange County’s best chefs—come together each year to dish it out at the renowned OC Chef’s Table at Disneyland® Resort.
In its sixth year on March 3, 2019, the culinary gala invites guests to a gourmet, multi-course dinner to benefit the Illumination Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing permanent housing and services for homeless adults and children. Not only will you experience an exquisite meal made out of foodie-dreams, but you’ll also be able to learn more about all of the incredible work Illumination Foundation does. Since its start in 2007, the foundation has provided 7,843 individuals with housing services and 9,902 individuals with resources to help them back on their feet. The annual culinary event puts the charge of tickets and silent auction towards the foundation to continue their dedicated service to the community.
In addition to chefs Tila, Sutton and Mead, the star lineup includes Jason Neroni from Rose Café, Linda Johnsen of Filomena’s, Peter Lai from the Blind Rabbit and more! Call up your foodie squad and secure your ticket at OCChefsTable.com. But can’t wait until March? We don’t blame you. We got the exclusive Q&A from 12 of this year’s participating chefs to try to curb our cravings and start the countdowns to the big event.
Q: What’s the latest thing you’re working on for Food Network? Any secret menu ideas you’re cooking up for the next OC Chef’s Table?
Jet Tila: I’m the new Floor Reporter for Iron Chef America. Basically, I’m moving around the floor, asking quick questions of the contestants as they’re frantically trying to cook. I’ve got to think fast on my feet because these people are cooking anything and everything. My next book—101 Recipes Every Cook Needs to Know—comes out in April next year, so I’m pulling the OC Chef’s Table menu from the book. The best part, though, is that my wife, Ali, is coming along this year. She’s a pastry chef, so she’s going to be in charge of all the truly memorable food.
Q: You’ve cooked in Europe, Manhattan and SoCal. What would you say is the biggest difference in the three worlds?
Jason Neroni: It’s all about the kitchen environment. European chefs begin apprenticing at the age of 10 or 12. In Europe, being a chef is a lifestyle and you cook your entire life. Here in the States, it’s more about cooking for a job. When I returned from Europe, I approached the management of my kitchen a whole different way—now, my kitchen is filled with longtime chefs and staff. It’s a huge difference.
Q: You’re returning for your fifth year at OC Chef’s Table! Why do you keep coming back?
Linda Johnsen: My restaurant is in Costa Mesa and we have homeless people all around. I made a commitment that if they came up to my door, I would feed them. It doesn’t matter how well the restaurant is or isn’t doing, I won’t turn anyone away. When I saw what this organization was doing for the homeless, I jumped at the opportunity. It hits home with me. When I started out on my own, I was about 17 years old and had to leave my job because I was being chased around a desk every day. I was on my own without a lot of resources available and it was a matter of time before I was pretty much homeless. When you’re down and out, you just need to feel that tug of knowing that someone cares and has resources to help get you on your feet again. That’s what Illumination Foundation is doing for so many families right now.
Q: The Blind Rabbit swept the Golden Foodies in bar and cocktail categories this year. Does that affect how you’re approaching your menus and food?
Peter Lai: Absolutely. We’re changing up the menu to represent more “true” speakeasy food, and choosing items that pair well with our craft cocktail efforts. The menu is doubling in size.
Q: You have quite the resumé working with one large group at one large table. How do you serve a multi-course meal to one table of 200 people?
Rich Mead: When Outstanding in the Field first came around, it was such a great concept—cooking for one long table of people in the middle of nature using only organic finds. Our first event hosted about 40 people. And then it grew like a weed. We went from hosting 40 people to 140 people…and that’s when I started calling in help.
Q: You’ve been on a number of Food Network shows as both a participant and judge…what’s your best memory in that whole experience?
Andrew Gruel: It’s so much fun; I feel like I come up with the newest great memory every day, but I’d say the best memory was when I was judging Food Truck Face Off and we were filming it in Canada. The contestants came from all over North America, but the winning team came from Huntington Beach, about a one minute drive from my original Slapfish restaurant. I still check in on them.
Q: What’s your favorite all-time dish you learned from a chef in your past?
Jeff Moore: Philly Cheesesteak! Chuck, the owner of the tiny restaurant in Hawaii had the serious goods on a sandwich I’d never even heard about. He showed me exactly how to cook it—it’s a science, you know! Even to this day he still serves the same sandwich.
Q: How did you get started in cooking and go on to become a tour chef with big musicians?
It’s in my genes. I grew up in the heart of L.A., just my Mom and me, and she was always cooking for our relatives. Every weekend, she’d make a big pot of pozole and tamales. My first job was setting the table. I eventually graduated as her prep cook, and finally moved over to the stove. From there, I just started working all over L.A. in the restaurants that most interested me. It was an awesome education. When I was working with an England-based catering company, they were looking for American chefs to do the tours with certain bands in the U.S. So, I met with the owner on a food tryout and ended up being the chef for Van Halen.
Q: This will be your third year with OC Chef’s Table. Why do you keep returning?
Leo Razo: A few years ago, I hired a gentleman—Justino Hernandez—and at the time we didn’t know he was homeless. When he started missing work, I figured out what was going on and decided to help him. I told my wife that he had something special. So, we sponsored his rehabilitation and I started to show him how to cook. He had such a talent and he was so eager to learn that he’s now my Sous Chef. He’s been with me four years now, and we have another gentleman—Daniel Gomez—we’ve helped, too, who’s been with us three years. They’ll both be with me this March at the OC Chef’s Table. When we discovered Illumination Foundation a few years ago and saw the work they were doing, it was a natural fit. And, I’ve always believed that when chefs get together, they can create a world of good, so OC Chef’s Table was an easy decision.
Q: What was the first dish you ever cooked?
Joseph Tripi: My Mom had a fryer, so I got into making my own donuts and buffalo wings at a pretty early age…like way earlier than most kids should probably be standing on a stool leaning over a deep fat fry machine. But I still remember learning how to cook spicy Arrabbiata marina sauce with my Sicilian grandmother. I still use that recipe today.
Q: What makes your Mastro’s unique from others?
Magellan Moore: At the Ocean Club, we have a larger percentage of fish and seafood dishes but, overall, the Mastro’s menu are beautifully and similarly structured so that guests can enjoy a familiar experience in any Mastro’s they choose. It’s the kitchen’s personality that will be entirely different from restaurant to restaurant. When you walk into each chef’s kitchen, you’re going to see a lot of different things in the set-up and running of a kitchen. It’s really about the chef’s energy, but it’s that energy that still infuses the food.
Q: What are you changing up this year at OC Chef’s Table?
Steven Anderson: Last year was our first year, and we were in the foyer for the reception, so, we got to see the “main event” as observers. We figured we’d just poke our heads, but we didn’t want to leave. The energy in that room with all the chefs working together was something really cool to see. OC Chef’s Table is one of those rare events where you’re not just serving guests who eat, listen to a couple presentations, and go their way. This is a collaboration of passion between high-level chefs, the extraordinary Illumination Foundation and truly interested patrons who are all committed to getting this homelessness issue handled.