you’re in pursuit of mouth-watering comfort food, be on the lookout for Chef JOE YOUKHAN’S food truck, The Tasting Spoon. After a three-year long stint as Executive Chef at the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, and four years as Executive Chef at Chat Noir in Costa Mesa, Chef Joe decided to work for himself, fulfilling his dream in creating his culinary company, The Tasting Spoon, in 2010. We met with him in Newport Coast to talk about his epic journey, and how it felt to become a “Chopped” Champion. Q: You started cooking as a child with your father. Tell us about your dad and what types of dishes the two of you cooked together. JOE YOUKHAN: My dad has been a huge inspiration for me. He’s been cooking since before I was born, so everything I know of him is being a chef. He’s always cooked in Italian restaurants, so what I know is really old school Italian-American—everything with sauce and cheese on it, you know, the tasty stuff. Q: When did you move from New York to Orange County, and what do you enjoy most about California? JY: I moved from New York to Orange County when I was a sophomore in high school. I love everything about California—amazing weather and everybody is super chill. Q: Can you tell us about the inspiration behind The Tasting Spoon truck? JY: Rustic Italian cuisine always spoke to me as far as really great comfort food that everybody enjoys, including myself. I’ve always gravitated towards that, and I thought people would appreciate that out on the streets. Q: Before your success on “Chopped,” The Tasting Spoon was featured on “Eat St.” Did that shake up business? JY: Yeah, “Eat St.” was a huge feature for us that focused on the truck and what we were doing. It definitely showed everyone on a large scale that we were serious, doing everything from scratch, that we’re committed to very high quality food and service. Q: The recipe for your Pizza Bianca was chosen for the “Eat St.” Cookbook. Any plans to do a full cookbook of your own? JY: Absolutely. I would love to. One of my projects on my list is doing a cookbook. Seeing recipes like the Pizza Bianca in the “Eat St.” cookbook definitely motivates me.
FOOD PHOTO PROVIDED BY CHRISTOPHER TODD STUDIOS
Q: I’ve read that you’re a black belt in Eagle-Claw Kung Fu. Is this true and what is Eagle-Claw Kung Fu? It sounds awesome. JY: Exactly, right? It’s craziness. It’s an old school, Shaolin-style Kung Fu. I’m also an ex-wrestler, and I currently train in Brazilian ju-jitsu where I’m a second stripe purple belt. Q: You say The Tasting Spoon is Italian with influences from all over. Is there one country you are especially gravitational towards? JY: Yeah, we like to call ourselves global comfort, because we do food that invokes that sense of grandma’s cooking, where you’re comfortable and being taken care of, but we’re using ingredients and techniques from all over the globe. Outside of Italy, I would say that Spain, Peru and France are where we pull a lot of influence.
Q: What’s the most popular menu item on the truck? JY: That’s a hard one; there are a lot of great dishes. I would say one that’s really popular right now is our Lobster, Crab and Brie Panini. We do that on brioche, and it has Calabria chili aioli, green onions and cilantro. Q: Do you have any recommendations for eating off the truck during summer? JY: Our Peruvian style ceviche. My sous chef is Peruvian, so he brings a lot of influence to the menu along with the ceviche. I look forward to every summer when it gets hot. Q: How important is using social media for your business? JY: Social media is huge for our business. We do a tremendous amount of marketing and advertising through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and our website. It’s essential for what we do. Q: What’s your favorite meal in Orange County? JY: My favorite meal is sushi, because it’s not cooked. I cook all day, everyday, so to have something that’s not cooked, unadulterated and just a pure expression of an ingredient is amazing. Q: Your business does a lot of catering events. What’s your most memorable catering experience? JY: Right when we started, we did a 14-course wedding dinner in Emerald Bay for 150 people right out of the truck. Q: So, congratulations on winning “Chopped!” What was that experience like? JY: “Chopped” was nothing short of being completely amazing. I’m a huge “Chopped” fan and a huge Food Network fan, so to be at the Food Network, in Manhattan, on the set, to see judges that I know and respect, hearing Ted Allen’s voice—the voice I normally hear on TV—to be there doing it, it was surreal. When it’s go time and you open up those baskets and you don’t know the ingredients, you don’t even know the judges when you start, so I was thinking—am I going to make it through this? Right when I opened the basket I felt confident and like I would walk away with a victory. It was the most amazing culinary experience of my life so far. Q: Any plans on scaling The Tasting Spoon with more trucks or opening a permanent space? JY: Yeah, absolutely. The Tasting Spoon to me is a culinary company. We never want to limit ourselves to saying, “We’re just a truck or a restaurant or a catering company.” I think the natural progression is to go brickand-mortar and have a home base. Also, the fact that I love so many different cuisines, I’d love to launch different trucks with different concepts.
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