Your open-air Farmhouse restaurant has been so well received since its opening in 2016. How have things settled in since the opening?
Chef Rich Mead: We started out as a French farmhouse with this great footprint, but it seems every time you’re building something, you never end up with enough room in the kitchen. After we opened, we realized that our kitchen was too small for the amount of business we were doing.
So, I worked with the City and the Health Department to take our 700-square-foot basement … which was really more of an unfinished cellar for wine storage … to a fully developed prep kitchen. Now we have floors and stainless steel walls and walk-in storage and freezers with plenty of room for all the prep work we need to do on a daily basis. It’s a godsend.
You have quite the resumé working with one large group at one large table. How in the world do you serve a multi-course meal to ONE table of 200 people?
Very methodically! When the folks from Outstanding in the Field first came on the scene, I thought it was such a great concept – cooking for one long table of people in the middle of nature using only organic finds. Our first event hosted about 40 people. And then it GREW like a weed. We went from hosting 40 people to 140 people … and that’s when I started calling in help.
It’s not unusual to serve 200 diners in an evening … even holiday or group dining buyouts can easily be that large. So, it’s really the same thing … except it’s at one long table all at once. Everyone is looking at their neighbor’s plate! We just did an event for Greenpeace at San Juan Capistrano’s Ecology Center for 250 people, and that was our 10th large event there. Each event is a different experience, so it keeps you on your toes and always creating better solutions for a memorable dining experience.
So, cooking for a table of 10 people at OC Chef’s Table … not as daunting?
It’s an opportunity to get even more creative. Chef Andy Sutton has been my friend for years, and he got me involved for the first time two years ago. He told me there would be more than 30 chefs in the ballroom’s kitchen, and that I needed to think of what I can create just relying on an induction burner in the front. That’s when I started changing things up, thinking in terms of great cold things I could serve … how I could poach a salmon properly, that kind of thing. Cooking is all about solving something … I love figuring that all out.
How do things really go between the chefs at OC Chef’s Table?
It’s fun to work with all these chefs. You can’t afford to hire them in real life for your own restaurant, but you have this one night to work with all of them and get a whiff of the kind of talent they bring to this room. No one feels bad about helping each other. If you need to borrow something at OC Chef’s Table, they lend it to you. I saw some chefs just move over on their own grill to make way for a chef who needed more room for a particular dish. It’s fun to meet your friends again, and great to talk with so many of the younger chefs to get an idea of what they’re doing.
What one memory do you remember most?
For starters, this is a charity event where just about every dime from the event really does go toward helping the people. That’s important to me. This is a chance to help someone find a new answer and get back on that path. Illumination Foundation gets it … they have a different vision for our world, and when you’re part of this event, you begin to see, too.
The event is a long day. I took a couple of my younger chefs with me, and they went in completely understanding … no one was getting paid to be there and, in a relative sense, it’s a small table of people compared to what we usually produce for a restaurant full of people. But you meet the wonderful people at your table, and you hear the stories from the stage, and you feel the commitment everywhere … and you begin to understand the size of what Illumination Foundation is doing.
But my best memory … when the event was over, these younger guys immediately started talking about how they would do it better next year. There was no question in their minds that they wouldn’t be back again. That’s what this event is all about. It touched these young guys and got them involved with something that’s so much bigger than just cooking.
The top chefs in Orange County (along with a few surprise visiting chefs) are getting together again for the renowned OC Chef’s Table at Disneyland® Resort on March 1, 2020.
OC Chef’s Table continues to help Illumination Foundation raise funds to provide permanent housing and services for homeless adults and children. With OC’s most imaginative chefs creating one-of-a-kind magical menus, it’s no wonder OC Chef’s Table is one of the most coveted gala tickets of the year.
See all 40+ chefs participating and secure your ticket at OCChefsTable.com. And, get to know this year’s phenomenal chefs as Diane Armitage sits down with each, asking 5 questions in just 5 minutes …