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On the Line: Britta Kvinge Pulliam of Britta's Cafe

Categories: On the Line
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Photo by Todd Barnes
Orange County--fleeting, impermanent, forever-discarding Orange County--is severely lacking in longstanding food personalities who aren't afraid to open new places while keeping a signature style. There's the Goodells, Pascal Olhats, Chef Abe and...who else? Definitely on that list is Britta Kvinge Pulliam, the lady behind the much-beloved Britta's Cafe, for years the only culinary non-ethnic reason to visit Irvine.

She's been at it since 1987 with her first Britta's on the Balboa Peninsula and was also behind the much-missed Gringa's Grill. I try to stop by Britta's every couple of months for the hearty breakfasts (with ingredients bought from the next-door farmers market) and massive pastries, and am forever charmed by the restaurant's interior, which looks like a living room writ large.

Anyhoo, the questions!

What are six words to describe your food?
Fresh, seasonal, comfortable, yummy, organic, uncomplicated.

What are ten words to describe you?
Mother, wife, friend, chef, redhead, positive, fun, compassionate, inquisitive, straight shooter, driven, strong.

Your best recent food find:
In Boulder, Colorado they have a store that sells only spices! I always purchase a few pound while I am there. Amazing! I think they are opening a store in Newport Beach!

Most undervalued ingredient:
Good salt.

Rules of conduct in your kitchens:
Respect for food, customers and each other. If it is not fresh, throw it away. If you would not eat it, do not serve it. No yelling! Be polite.

One food you detest:
Lutefisk...but every Christmas Eve I think I should prepare it, even though no one will eat it! And I do not like white pepper.

One food you can't live without:
Cheese...Cowgirl Creamery comes to mind!

Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
Farmers market.

What fast food do you admit to eating?
I had to really think about this... I was going to write potato chips. But then I remembered... corn dog at Disneyland. Once a year I have have a corn dog. They are the best!

Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Keep frozen stock (vegetable, beef, fish , chicken) in the freezer! It always makes your food taste better.

After-work hangout:
"Britta's Bar and Home Sofa" with family and dogs. I like to be at home. Also the neighbors all get together and eat dinner often.

If you could cook for one person, dead or alive, who would it be?
I would make dinner for my Omi. I would have pansies on the table for a center piece. I would make her Rouladen or shrimp with wild mushrooms (the birthday menu she last requested) and strawberry ice cream for dessert. And we would drink Champagne--or she probably would prefer a margarita.

Favorite celebrity chef:
Lidia and Ina... and I love to watch Alton Brown.

Celebrity chef who should shut up:
Toss up between Rachael Ray, Sandra Lee and Emeril Lagasse.

Proudest moment as a chef/restaurant owner:
When a customer stop me to compliment their service and the server was my daughter, Raquel.

Favorite music to cook by:
Pastry: classical--Mozart, Bach, something like that. Bread: Fauré's Requiem. On the line: Ella Fitzgerald (always love Ella) singing Cole Porter. Maybe Aerosmith if the customers wouldn't mind. At home (no-pressure cooking): Motown--Marvin Gay.

Best food city in America:
Boulder, Colorado. My daughter is at CU in Boulder. I was pleasantly surprised what an incredible food town it is.

Favorite restaurant in America:
Hard to narrow it down to one, but if I have to--Chez Panisse. I also love Prune in NYC and Frasca in Boulder, and Boulevards in San Fran.

What you'd like to see more of in Orange County from a culinary standpoint:
More independently owned and operated restaurants preparing food to order.

What show would you pitch to the Food Network?
Farmers Market Walk with Chef: Walk with a chef at different farmers markets while she selects seasonal food and then back to the kitchen to prepare a meal. It would be great to see all the different farmers markets across the country.

Weirdest thing you've ever eaten:
Oyster poached in warmed cream in Paris. Salty, fishy, kinda cold-latte-without-a-coffee flavor.

You're making an omelet. What's in it?
Trick question--eggs? Chorizo, Roasted pasilla, cotija, pico de gallo and avocado.

You're at the market. What do you buy two of?
Bottles of wine: must have a red and a white.

Weirdest customer request:
I once had a customer order a glass of wine, taste it, said that it was a little sweet, asked for salt and proceeded to sprinkle salt in her wine. When she saw my jaw drop open, she said "It is just simple chemistry, dear." And once a customer scolded me for having misleading printing on my wine list. "There no way you can have a French wine from Napa," she said. "Right here, you have written Cabernet France 2007, Napa Valley! That is impossible! You need to remove that right away!" And then I politely pointed out that Cabernet Franc is a grape varietal not a place.

Britta's Cafe, 237 Campus Dr. Irvine, (949) 509-1211; www.brittascafe.com.

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