On the Line: Kerri Cacciata Minton of the Yost Theater, Part One
We were candid when admitting to Kerri Cacciata Minton we had no idea the Yost Theater even served food (you know, besides the deep-fried variety that goes so well with cocktails). Yet the more we got to know Minton, the more we realized her lifestyle revolves around food. Whether it's her edible garden or commitment to coffee, she is deeply involved in all things delicious and local.
Your earliest food memory?
Trips to Claro's Market first thing in the morning, followed by a full day of making sauce with my grandma Josephine. My dad carries on the tradition in the same kitchen.
Favorite meal growing up:
Steak, bacon, cheese and ice cream were my staples, which resulted in insanely high cholesterol when I was 10. I spent the next 12 years as a vegetarian, which was a mix of doctor's orders and animal-rights activism. A bad breakup sent me straight to In-N-Out Burger for an animal-style fix. I'm picky about the meat I eat now, conscious of how it was raised . . . when I do [eat meat], I do it right. I love a beef carpaccio, tartare or a rare filet mignon. Pretty savage.
Your best recent food find:
The pomegranate tree growing in the alley a few blocks from my house. I can tell you where all of the fruit trees that hang over property lines are in my neighborhood. There's peach, orange, fig, avocado, lemon and now pomegranate within reach.
How's the edible garden coming along?
'Tis the season--it's in full bloom right now. It could be a full-time job just to keep it up. We also have a new plot at the Santa Ana People's Garden. I'm excited to plan the space and am working with my staff on what to plant first.
What's growing in your home garden?
The corn, fennel, tomatoes, grapes, goji berries and peppers are kicking ass. The curry, mint and basil are also taking over. It's definitely summer!
Best culinary tip for the home cook:
In respect to seasoning, taste as you go. Taste it raw and as it cooks. . . . Unless you're cooking chicken. That would be bad. Please don't do that.
Favorite places to eat (besides your own):
Vegi Wokery in Cerritos and Tandoori Garden in Anaheim.
Strangest thing you've ever eaten:
The strangest thing I have ever eaten was a gluten-free diet. I think it lasted 48 hours. Definitely not my jam. One of my first and favorite jobs was in Laura Avery's bagel shop a million years ago. That MFK Fisher quote is so true: "No yoga exercise, no meditation in a chapel filled with music will rid you of your blues better than the humble task of making your own bread."
Weirdest customer request (and did you do it?):
Someone recently sent back a cheese plate, asking for less cheese on it. I couldn't bring myself to take away any cheese, but I went ahead and stocked him up on berries, nuts and crostini. Cheese is another obsession of mine.
What is your beverage of choice, and where do you get it?
Coffee. Everywhere. Always.
When did you join the Yost Theater?
In February. Since then, we've established a late-night food service and catering for private events. We have a few more projects on the horizon that are keeping me busy as well. Stay tuned.
Where was your most recent meal?
I stopped by Beverly's Best in Brea for a brownie. Not a conventional meal, but technically, it was my lunch, and it was lovely. I've been going there for almost 20 years for those brownies. The secret is they usually have them in the back without the candy toppings. If you ask nicely, they will bring one up and top it with confectioner's sugar, which is heaven.
Give us an example of what it means to be local, seasonal and sustainable in your kitchen.
What I can't grow or make myself, someone else is locally. California is a mecca when it comes to amazing produce, olive oils, ranchers, bakers and food crafters. The farmers' market is a great source of inspiration and product. We use Jidori chicken, and we compost as well. We also source from local producers such as OC Baking and Front Porch Pops.
What do you recommend for first-timers?
The lamb vindaloo tacos or mango curry wings. Indian spices make my world go 'round. A lot of people don't realize they love them until they try them, or they can't define what they are tasting, but they enjoy the flavors.
Most undervalued ingredient:
Acidity. And very fresh olive oil.
What James Beard award-winning chefs have you worked with?
I am forever thankful for my time at Pizzeria Mozza. Chef Matt Molina and Nancy Silverton have such thoughtful menus, systematic and organized kitchens, and great chefs carrying out the operation.
Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
Moxie, potential and people to make it happen. There is a great community of chefs and passionate foodies that have made--and will continue to make--great things happen here.
One food you can't live without:
I think I might answer this differently every day. Today, it's all about chocolate.
Paul Buchanan with Primal Alchemy in Long Beach. His style is thoughtful and ingredient-driven, not overly complicated. He makes true food. He taught me a lot and really walks the walk. He cures meats, cans, forages, gardens and sources directly from the farmers.
He also is involved civically and politically, and I think that's very important. Being a member of the community and having a voice and platform is something one shouldn't take for granted. He also does a great job of balancing family life with work, which can be hard to do in this business.
You're having breakfast. What are you making?
Sourdough toast and coffee.
Is there a dish that you'd like to learn how to make?
There are a million versions of Indian curry, and I'll keep experimenting with those spices forever. A 2011 trip to southern India included cooking lessons from a wonderful lady named Kumari. Her humble home kitchen and limited English didn't matter--those flavors and techniques transcended the circumstances.