This is your first year at OC Chef’s Table, yes?
Chef Brian Okada: Absolutely! Water Grill was there last year and afterwards, the chefs kept talking about how elaborate and amazing it was. They were totally hooked. So, this year I thought I’d step in and experience firsthand what all the talk is about. We’ve already started talking concepts over here – this is an important night for us.
So, what does a Culinary Director do vs. an Executive Chef of a restaurant?
It just means I oversee all of the restaurants from the top down, and get to design more about the overall dining experience, which is a pretty great job.
I started working with King Seafood Company 10 years ago as their Culinary Director, so I’ve helped create several new brands for the company – Fish Camp, Pier Burger, 555 East, etc. And I got to be involved in the remodels and updates for our Water Grill and steakhouse restaurants, too.
Now we have 21 restaurants – five Water Grills, three steakhouses that include 555 East in Long Beach, Lou & Mickey’s in the Gaslamp District and Meat on Ocean in Santa Monica. Then, we have fast casual too with Fish Camp and Pier Burger. It’s never a dull moment.
There’s a lot of R&D involved. We sit down in a room and start hammering it all out – plateware, everything that touches the table, equipment in the kitchen, then the menu concepts and cuisine design. Now the NEW project is the OC Chef’s Table!
Did you have any early influencers that got you interested in cooking?
Well, my grandmothers definitely got me interested in EATING. They both loved to cook, and they were on opposite ends of the spectrum. My Japanese grandmother was an amazing cook; she’d always do a huge table devoted to traditional Japanese food.
On the other extreme … my grandmother from the hills of West Virginia. She was the queen of comfort food. My grandfather would come home from work every day and, even well into his 60s, she would be sure that a glass of buttermilk and a piece of white bread for soaking would be there to greet him.
It’s pretty hysterical looking back at how these two women would load up a shared table – the huge bowl of steamy comfort food with this delicate, precise Japanese food. As it turned out, my Dad was a great cook (the West Virgina side) and my Mom somehow missed the cooking gene altogether.
When did YOU start cooking?
I had to get a job after high school, and luckily landed a restaurant job. No idea what I would have done had I gotten a job as a framer – I think this cooking thing is what I was meant to do. It was fun and came easy to me, and I couldn’t believe you could get paid for something that was all that. Then, they asked me to help them train people for restaurants they were opening so I spent a few years moving from place to place. There’s really no better experience.
So, when did you decide this would be a career for you?
Even after the restaurant opening and training I did, I don’t think I was truly committed until I worked for an executive chef at a private club in my mid 20s … and then my eyes were opened. I finally realized then that food could be art, and from that moment forward, there was no looking back.
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 3, 2019.
In it 6th year, 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 …