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Local Chefs on a few of their favorite things

August 29, 2019

Newport Beach’s top chefs—Amy Lebrun, Rich Mead and Tony Vera—gush about their favorite healthy ingredients, kitchen hacks, food-and-drink pairings and so much more. We took them out of the kitchen for an exclusive interview to answer all of our food wellness questions. And don’t worry – if this blog leaves you with irresistible cravings, we’ve got you covered with these Wellness Week menus.

Chef Amy Lebrun from Lido Bottle Works 

At Lido Bottle Works, executive chef Amy Lebrun serves up an inspired menu that’s very much of the place—and she does so by sourcing sustainable catch and tip-top, hyper-local ingredients.

The farm-fresh item I wait all year for is:
Tomatoes. The textures and flavors of peak-season tomatoes are the most delicious thing to me.

My favorite season for produce?
Spring because I wait so long through winter making roasts and braises that it’s great to be able to serve more delicate, vibrant preparations of produce.

The item that Orange County farms do the best is:
Strawberries. They’re available at all the best farms in the area, and they taste amazing when you get them there.

Seasonal menus are a must, I keep things fresh by:
Making sure that whatever’s peak-season goes on the menu now. An ingredient may not be there tomorrow if it isn’t peak.

The most underrated healthy ingredient is:
Broccoli. A lot of people avoid this vegetable, but the flavor and texture are delicious!

The most overrated healthy ingredient is:
Arugula. It’s put on everything. Watermelon radish is a close second.

Best food and beverage pairing are:
A fruit-forward sour beer with something fried and fatty, preferably fried chicken.

Fruit or vegetable I can’t live without is:
All of them.

Best kitchen hack for the home cook?
If you’re baking a cake and don’t have any oil or butter, use mayonnaise. It’s the best. I’m telling you.

The top three items that should only be eaten in season are:
Tomatoes, cherries and fava beans.


Chef Rich Mead from Farmhouse at Roger’s Gardens

Working closely with local, organic farms, Rich Mead dreams up seasonal, ingredient-driven dishes at Farmhouse—an al fresco dining experience nestled in Roger’s Gardens, where farm-to-table is not just a buzzword, but the absolute truth.

The farm fresh item I wait all year for is:
Kumquats because of what it adds to the Asian Chicken Salad. The oils from the skins perfume the salad and enhance all of the flavors.

Favorite season for produce?
It’s so easy to cook—or not cook—with everything we get in summer: tomatoes, corn, melons, peaches, figs, squash, eggplant and more.

The item that Orange County farms do the best is:
Strawberries. OC Farms grow a great variety of produce. It’s hard to pick just one, but strawberries are a good bet—from Rosewood Farms in Fountain Valley to the farm at the Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano.

Seasonal menus are a must, I keep things fresh by:
Visiting my farmer friends at the Santa Monica Farmers Market every week to gather the freshest, most interesting produce for my restaurant.

The most underrated healthy ingredient is:
Ginger.

The most overrated healthy ingredient is:
Orange Juice. Although it provides fiber, it also has lots of sugar.

The best food-and-beverage pairing is:
Our Asian Chicken Salad 2.0 and the Kermit’s Autopsy cocktail, or really, any of our Farmhouse seasonal dishes and cocktails.

A fruit I can’t live without is:
The Satsuma tangerine. They’re sweet, petite and ready to eat (I stole that line from the Ojai Pixie Tangerines).

Best kitchen hack for the home cook?
To clean the skin off garlic cloves, break the head apart and place the cloves in a mixing bowl or cocktail jigger. Cover and shake vigorously. The paper skin will fall off of cloves.

The top three items that should only be eaten in season are:
Tomatoes, strawberries and peaches.


Chef Tony Vera at True Food Kitchen

Known for its wholesome, nutrition-minded approach to food, True Food Kitchen’s Newport outpost is a destination that healthy eaters swear by—and in large part, that’s thanks to executive chef Tony Vera.

The farm fresh item I wait all year for is:
Watermelon. During the summer, watermelon really tastes like watermelon. Any other time of the year, it tastes like water with no melon.

My favorite season for produce is:
Spring and fall. In the springtime, I love the vibrancy of all herbs, microgreen and edible flowers. They can really add so much beauty to your food. As for the fall, the produce leads to warmer comfort food. This style brings out more memories of togetherness with friends and family.

What Orange County farms do best is:
Keep things fresh and fun. You can tour so many local farms, pick your produce with the kids, enjoy hayrides and more. It’s the absolute best!

Seasonal menus are a must—I keep things fresh by:
Keeping in constant contact with our purveyor. We talk daily about the produce that comes into our building at True Food Kitchen. On a personal level, my wife and I love to walk through the local farmer’s market to get our produce and a snack or two.

The most underrated healthy ingredient is:
Papaya. You really don’t see it being used very often anymore, but it’s so delicious and good for you.

The most overrated healthy ingredient is:
Protein powder—hands down. Most of them are overly processed, have fillers and are loaded with sugar. The average person really does not need this. All you need is a well-balanced diet of whole foods to achieve your fitness and health goals.

The best food and beverage pairing are:
Milk and spaghetti with red sauce. I know this sounds really weird but it pairs so well as comfort food! The milk balances out the acidity in the red sauce, much like parmesan cheese does on top of a pasta dish. It’s so good.

A fruit I can’t live without is:
A banana. It’s so versatile! You can eat it for breakfast, as a snack, in a peanut butter-and-honey sandwich, in a smoothie, as a late-night snack, before a workout, or after a workout. The list goes on.

Best kitchen hack for the home cook?
Has to be the rice cooker. You can do so much more with a rice cooker than just cook rice. You can steam veggies, sear meats, make stews and more. If you don’t believe me, Google it! It’s awesome.

The top three items that should only be eaten in season are:
Watermelon, dragon fruit, and butternut squash.

Written by Juliana Giles

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