On the Line: Raj Dixit And Michael Mina Of Stonehill Tavern, Part Two

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Photo by Jennifer Fedrizzi
Taking a moment

After a whirlwind day of discussing, learning about and dining on local cuisine, both chefs were still game to put on their whites back at Stonehill Tavern. A chef with 26 concepts (and counting) across the country, it is no surprise that Michael Mina was just nominated for a James Beard Award for Outstanding Restauranteur. Our final installment focuses on Mina's family values and his devotion to his craft.

Don't forget to check out the first part of our interview, featuring Stonehill Tavern's very own Raj Dixit. That can be found over here.
When you're ready . . .Michael's responses are below.

Let's talk about being a 15-year-old Garde Manager in a French restaurant. What was so intriguing about the restaurant industry?
Seeing guests interact with one another over food was so fascinating for me. The fact they could be so moved by a dining experience I had helped to create was incredible. I've built my career on continuing to provide that exceptional experience for guests. I crave that ability to help others create lasting memories together over a meal.

What made you select Orange County/Dana Point for Stonehill Tavern?
The St. Regis brand is known for providing a bespoke experience for their guests. When the opportunity arose, we felt like it was a perfect fit for our philosophy on superior guest service.


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On the Line: Raj Dixit And Michael Mina Of Stonehill Tavern, Part One

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Photo by Jennifer Fedrizzi
Staring contest

The opportunity to interview is always a pleasure, but to be invited to spend the day with a subject is another story-- especially when it involves an establishment I already enjoy dining at. I joined Executive Chef Raj Dixit and Michael Mina at the Santa Monica farmers market for a tour and lunch one recent morning. While there was still shop talk on the drive up, having the two outside of a kitchen made for a relaxed atmosphere.

This week, we divide up the interview between both chefs. Today's installment features Stonehill Tavern's main man. I saved Mina's responses for tomorrow.

One stereotype about your industry, and whether it's true.
Chefs have egos! You're only as good as your last plate and meal.


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Q & A With Bev Lazo, Hell's Kitchen Contestant And Local Ninja Chef

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Go Bev!
The last time I ran into my friend Bev, it was during a hatch chile event. The time before that, she was running a Filipino pop-up inside the Playground. She'd been secretive about her current project, promising to tell all once she was allowed to. Now that the new season of Hell's Kitchen is underway, Lazo is ready to spill (most of) the beans with me. Over the weekend, she was in Augusta, Georgia, catering for The Masters Tournament. But Bev made sure to answer our burning questions prior to her trip.

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320 Main Collaborative Chef's Dinner This Monday

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Photo by Eleonor Segura/OC Weekly
Eric Samaniego of Little Sparrow

Whenever two or more chefs are gathered, you can (typically) expect drinking, colorful language and a lot of shop talk. Get five darn talented ones, and it turns into a party. A little birdie chirped about one such event going on next week. If you're looking for alternatives to next Friday's love fest, chew on this.

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Andrew Gruel Of Slapfish Doing Kitchen Demo At Macy*s

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Photo by Meranda Carter

Kitchen demos always seem so hoity-toity. That is, until you actually know the chef. Then it's kinda cool. So we were happy to see one of the Weekly's favorite chefs schedule an appearance at the Macy*s Home Store in South Coast Plaza.

What makes Andrew Gruel a favorite? 2012 Best Of winner for their fish & chips and seafood restaurant makes them a critic's pick. We've also been known to geek out over their chowder fries. Hey, it's seafood so fresh, it oughtta be slapped!

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Cooking Gravy with Al Capone: Q + A With Deirdre Marie Capone, Al's Niece

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"Your word is your bond. And family is everything."

Deirdre Marie Capone was the last person born with the Capone surname. Her family was so misunderstood, the more research Deirdre did, the more she discovered how sullied her family name was. Yes, Al Capone had money. But he shared it. Her father was a lawyer, but the Chicago Bar Association wouldn't allow him to practice due to his family connections. He ultimately took his own life. Deirdre's grandfather took her under his wing, and she promised him her book, Uncle Al Capone, would not be written until all the original family members had passed away. This kind of respect was known as omerta.

Prohibition started in 1920. Women were bobbing their hair and shortening their skirts. Jazz was coming into being. Everything revolved around the consumption of alcohol. Now all of a sudden, the government banned the transportation and consumption of it. People in rural areas could build their own stills and make their own alcohol, but other people in the cities could not. They relied on somebody to provide it. Deirdre's family called it a business, priding themselves on providing top quality alcohol. "Nobody ever went blind. Their livers never burst open." They thought they were providing a service, and they were. But they made too much money, and they were Italian. Businesspeople didn't like them.

We drank Templeton Rye cocktails one afternoon at Newport Beach's A Restaurant just before her appearance at Hi-Time Wine Cellars. Deirdre discussed how Prohibition was not evil, but the abuse of it was.

Tell us about a side of Uncle Al that only you, his niece, knew.
There's one story that's not in my book that would describe Uncle Al well. I was with my father at Al's home in Miami, and they had a huge saltwater pool. They didn't filter or add chlorine to it. I jumped in, and when he picked me up out of the water, I can still see his face. He kept laughing and laughing. He laughed so hard he started choking. I must've made the most unbelievable face, because I've never been in saltwater before. It startled and stung me.


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Hanging Out With Aaron Sanchez

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House of Blues menu revamping. Bud Light spokesman. Chopped judge. Aaron Sanchez keeps a hectic schedule, but that didn't stop him from sitting down with us at Downtown Disney's House of Blues patio to chat about guacamole, his TV obsession and rock 'n roll.

So what brought you to House of Blues?
The food here, I thought, was a little dated, to be honest. When you have a venue that has a reputation for one thing, it's very easy to chalk up the food and do something marginal. It really happened with the new CEO. He knew my business and business partners. They told him, "I've got this guy. He's a chef. He's tattooed. He loves music. I think it'd be a good fit." I met with Ron, and that is the genesis of why I'm here.


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Q & A With Marcus Samuelsson

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Anne Marie Panoringan
Dirty rice & shrimp

We had six minutes to converse with visiting chef Marcus Samuelsson before he went downstairs to commence his cooking demonstration inside Macy's South Coast Plaza. Instead of discussing his memoir or line of cookware, we kept digging. Were we able to learn more about him than his Facebook, website and Twitter feed? Yes. We also included pics of two of the finished dishes Samuelsson created for his hungry audience.

Tell us more about the Ambessa tea line.
I thought about all the great meals that you have. When you go into another person's culture, you try the food. But then, very often, you sit afterward and drink tea. It's almost like breaking bread with friends -- we're now going to talk about something. That's done all over the world with tea. Specifically in Africa, tea has a very powerful, important meaning. I wanted to share the African ideas about teas with the world. Ambessa also means "lion" in Amharic, the language in Ethiopia.

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Chow Ciao! Q & A With Fabio Viviani

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Anne Marie Panoringan
Snacking on beer battered, chicken fried bacon.

Our weekly On the Line chef interviews are typically relaxed. There's small talk, sometimes we share a meal, but we can always count on them to be full of anecdotes and candor for the hour or so we spend with them. Celebrity chef interviews are more tricky. Our time is cut to less than 10 minutes, leaving little to work with. We shave down our list of questions and hope that our professionalism is rewarded. Having the opportunity to hand him a plate of fair food to his liking really helped, too.

Shortly before his cooking demonstration at OC Fair, Top Chef fan favorite Fabio Viviani allows us time to ask whatever we want. We served up a mix of questionnaire standards with a few our friends were dying to know. For someone who is both adored and teased for his accent, Fabio's responses were direct and (thankfully) easy to understand.

Has your fame from appearing on Top Chef and Storage Wars influenced your cooking? Have you remained true to your cooking beliefs, or have you changed based on your audience?


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Interview: Impossible -- Meeting Robert Irvine

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"You can ask me any question you want, but be ready for the answer."

Already wrapped with Season Five and on a media blitz, Robert Irvine was allowed one interview after performing at the OC Fair, and we were lucky enough to grab the brass ring. Some of our questions were answered as he worked his way through the audience, but he inspired a few more. Not the persona you generally see on Food Network, Robert was sincere and candid in his responses.

How many of your 330 days working do you spend entertaining the troops?
Eighty to 100. I try to fit my charities--armed forces, veterans and kids--between my shows. My life is on the road. My life is dedicated to other people, which sounds like I'm a masochist, but I enjoy doing it. I get such a feeling of giving back from it. This is like a big high for me. Like putting food on a plate and people loving it--it is just a cool thing to do.


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