Gabriel Caliendo of The Lazy Dog Cafe, Part One

Categories: On the Line
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Kimberly Valenzuela
With the recent opening of Lazy Dog Cafe in the Irvine Marketplace--the chain's third OC location--word is spreading about the little chain of restaurants with rustic decor and an eclectic menu.

The man behind the food at all Lazy Dog Cafes is Executive Chef Gabriel Caliendo. Prior to taking the position in 2003, Caliendo spent 10 years as part of the culinary team of the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Laguna Niguel.

And now he's taking the time to answer all of our questions. Check back tomorrow for the second installment of the interview, and Thursday for a recipe from the chef himself.

What are six words to describe your food?  
Balanced, seasonal, flavorful, international, timeless, mine.

What are ten words to describe you?
Fun, passionate, focused, balding, fast, happy, curious, approachable, amiable, proud.

Your best recent food find:
Yuzu kosho.

Most undervalued ingredient:
Vinegar.

Rules of conduct in your kitchens:
Have fun, work hard and clean. Take care of our guests.

One food you detest:
Lima beans.

One food you can't live without:
Hamachi (yellowtail) sashimi.

Culinarily speaking, Orange County and Long Beach have the best:
Variety of restaurants: Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, South American, Pacific Rim, European, regional American.

What is your fast food guilty pleasure and why?
In-N-Out Burger because they are the only place that makes me enjoy crappy processed cheese.

Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Clean as you go...

After-work hangout:
My favorite place to be is home with my family. If it is too late, and they are sleeping, I always enjoy a cold beer or glass of wine near a fire pit with friends (most of whom are people I work with).

If you could cook for one person, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
My parents, because they have cooked for me so many times and they love food. I owe my culinary existence to them, in addition to my physical existence.

Favorite celebrity chef:
Mario Batali for food and Gordon Ramsay for honesty.

Celebrity chef who should shut up:
No comment.

What's next for you?
After cooking I want to farm. My grandparents on both sides in Italy were farmers and it is in my blood. Anything you can eat or drink: vanilla bean, coffee, grapes, agave, avocado, olives...

Proudest moment as a chef:
When my wife and parents first realized that all of my hard work cooking was paying off as a sustainable career. Of course, I always look back at the really hard work as my most passionate time in the kitchen. iIt will always be a lifestyle and not a career to me.


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