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One of the Best New Restaurants in OC

05.02.18

My new favorite restaurant to open in Orange County could easily be Journeyman’s Food and Drink in Fullerton. Chef Zachary Geerson, who also has Citizen Kitchen at The Hotel Fullerton just opened this new pre-fixe restaurant that’s unlike anything I’ve experienced in Orange County.

Geerson describes his cuisine as post-modern and globally-inspired. The menu offers four courses, things like an Amuse Bouche of foie gras marshmallow; Grilled Leek with ginger with ginger “curd” and green tea dashi; Lamb with cucumber, garlic, and oregano; Goat Cheese Ravioli with spring vegetables, white asparagus bisque.

You need to experience it to understand how special it is. You can also add wine tasting to the dinner. And, each cocktail is incredible such as Chocolate Wasted with Bulleit Rye, Fernet Branca, Vanilla and Chocolate Bitter; or the Flower girl, with Bombay Sapphire Gin, lime, hibiscus syrup, rose water, and egg white; Pushing up Daisies with Gin, Elderflower, heavy cream, citrus, lavender, rose and egg white.

In between Chef Geerson’s running two restaurants, he took the time to share more about his inspiration, favorite meals and what he’s most proud of.  

Q & A with Chef Zach Geerson

1.When did you first know you wanted to be a chef?
I knew I wanted to cook when I was about 19, but when I really started getting interested in being a chef was when my first chef, Harold, gave me the opportunity to start being responsible for daily specials and then let me put dishes of my own on the menu. He slowly gave me the chef mentality, but it would be a couple of years later that I would learn what it meant to earn the title “chef,”

2. What are you most proud of?
My wife Olivia, she puts up with my later nights and sometimes early mornings. She’s put up with a lot of my crap. But, in relation to my career, I’m really proud of what Journeyman’s Food + Drink has become. A sort of inspirational restaurant for local cooks and my team to keep pushing the boundaries little by little.

3. Since you just opened Journeyman’s Food and Drink, now you’re running two restaurants, what does a typical day look like to you?
Typically I stop by Starbucks for their sweet cream cold brew on my way to work at around 10 am and take my time in the morning. My mornings are really important to me because its when I get my mind right for the day or week. Then, I’m at work by 11 and greet all my team one by one, get a feel for the energy in the kitchen that day. I spend most of my mornings observing prep for both restaurants, being in meetings and tastings for the beverage program for both restaurants, in meetings for banquets, or future projects, meeting with our PR team and talk about events and charity movements that we can help make a difference. At 2 p.m. both PM crews arrive, and the same thing starts.

I observe prep, do demos of any new recipes and dishes for either restaurant. At 4:05 p.m. the kitchen puts up a family meal, and both restaurant teams eat lunch together. At 4:35 p.m. we return back to work, at this time I make sure Front of House has the tables set up, and the first impression steps of both restaurants are proper. We taste any wines that have been open from our wine pairings or by the glass option and make sure they are in proper shape to serve or if not we use them for braising and marinating. At 5:10 p.m. I taste every sauce that is used for the current Journeyman’s menu. Between 5:30 p.m. -10:30 p.m., I expedite, cook, greet guests, table touch, interact with our beverage team for new ideas, and try to get some action shots for social media as much as possible. By 11 p.m. or so, we’re saying goodnight, and we pack up and have our after service meeting to talk about the next day events. 11:30 we’re out the door.

4. What is the process of creating a dish?
This is a loaded question. We stopped focusing on specific dishes and started on new techniques and product manipulation and applying these ideas to as many ingredients that we think might work. Most every dish is in the mental phase for weeks before we do anything specific. Sometimes dishes come together without much thought. We’ve built a portfolio of menu development with pages focusing on in-season ingredients, techniques that are possible, textures, and menus that we’ve done, or different inspirations. There has to be a purpose or a cohesiveness for a dish to exist. We rate dishes on a few criteria: Deliciousness, presentation, technique necessary, philosophy or story (purpose), difficulty within the context of either restaurant, cohesiveness within the structure of the current menu.

5. What would you be doing if you weren’t a chef?
I would be some sort industry that connects me with people. I might be a restaurant consultant. I don’t know, and I love what I do so I don’t really think about doing anything else. I’ve thought about when we have kids to be a stay at home dad. I love children; they have a great freeing mentality that as adults we seem to lose sometime. Their innocence is incredible.

6. You grew up in Fort Myers, Florida what are some of your fondest memories growing up there?
Going to the beach every summer vacation when almost the whole family would stay, and we would just escape from everyday life for a nice week or two. Some awesome stuff that’s happened in my childhood. Too much to list.

7. Where is home?
Right now, Fullerton.

8. When you are in Orange County where do you love to eat, other than at your own restaurant?
If we go out to eat, we tend to go to Bruno’s in Brea because it’s close to home. There is a small Thai and Laotian restaurant called Esan Rod Sop (I might have butchered the spelling) in Anaheim that is pretty good. We like to try and go to other chef’s restaurants too, try and show love our industry.

9. Where do you get inspiration?
Mostly, by watching who are considered the best chefs in the world. Sometimes inspiration comes from something that I haven’t seen been done before or a new technique or ingredient that might come through the kitchen. If you keep an open mind, inspiration can come from the most unlikely places.

10. Tell us about Journeyman’s, why is it special to you?
Journeyman’s as a concept is a restaurant that grows as we grow. It is a collective idea of the past, present, and future of my career and the team that we’ve been developing. I was extremely involved in the design process and the owner of the Hotel, Charles, gave me extreme freedom to create something great, and with his support, it truly is something great.

11. What is your favorite food in the world and why?
I love pasta. I grew up eating pasta at my nana’s, but when I learned how to make pasta, how to manipulate flour and water. I learned of the skill of making great pasta and the labor of love that it is. It can be a very metaphorical and poetic dish if done right.

12. Do you cook at home?
HAHAHAHAHAhahahha….. No. Every once in a while I might toast some bread for a sandwich though.

13.  What is your pet peeve in the kitchen?
Close minded cooks or a cook who “knows everything” and not tasting your food constantly.

14. What is the hardest part about being a chef?
The balance of being true to yourself and being a businessman. We all strive I believe to be paid just off of what we think is the best or what we are excited about. The goal is to be successful enough where my guests feel the same way about the food that I’m cooking at this moment.

15. How do you view the Orange County food scene?
In the past few years, its made some progress, but we need to let some trends die and stop saturating the market with embellishments of the same freaking concepts all over the place. Slowly we are starting to see actual good creative cuisine make its way up front. Stop, putting freaking tacos on a pizza and then rolling it into a burrito, put some gold leaf on it and then serve it an ice cream cone and calling it “fusion” or the hottest new thing.

16. What advice would you give to a budding chef?
Be prepared for trial and hardship. To get to the top, there are fundamental things you end up giving up or losing and that mental pressure is what tends to ruin great young cooks than just the pressure of cooking great food. Find a chef who cares about his food and his “adopted family.” A great chef knows how to take care of his own.

17. Do you eat fast food and where?
When they had it, I was a sucker for Carl’s Jr. Diablo burger with Jalapeno Poppers… Other than that I’ve pretty much given up fast food. I can feel it, in a bad way, after eating out.

18. What do you love to do in your free time?
I like thinking of new ideas for our restaurants. Olivia and I talk about new things we’re doing. I like going to the movies and Olivia, and I try to have some sort of date night every Sunday. We like going to the arcade every once in a while. Going to San Diego is cool too. I love Little Italy.

19. Do you have a most memorable meal?
Vespertine, in Culver City, Jordan Khan is bad ass, and Gloria is incredible

20. The secret, most people, don’t know about you?
I hate the sound of chewing so much that if it’s quiet and someone is eating close to me, I will either walk away or play music or turn the TV on.



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