Recently I was able to interview Chef David Dennis of Fullerton’s Matador Cantina to ask about his perspective on food and the food creation process. Starting with a strong Mexican base of ingredients and recipes Chef Dennis then innovates beyond that to come up with some truly intriguing dishes. And while they have plenty of meat options for us carnivores and omnivores Chef Dennis has also created a very popular vegan menu for the Matador Cantina. Read on to learn more about what drives this master chef:
- Q: What inspires you to create a new dish?
- A: Usually it starts with a trip to the market. I buy something I’ve never used before and I just start experimenting.
- Q: What’s an important item recipe or secret ingredient you can share?
- A: Smoked paprika.
- Q: I recall seeing that you have served Cap’n Crunch-crusted French Toast. How did that come about?
- A: It started when my assistant and I wanted to make a different French toast as a special for our weekend brunch. We talked about crusting it, then we named off our favorite breakfast cereals. We tried them all and the two that tasted best were Cap’n Crunch and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Ended up colorful and tasted great. The guests loved it.
- Q: Are there any food-related TV shows you watch? Any you would like to be on?
- A: I watch them all. I would do Chopped or Top Chef.
- Q: What kind of food do you eat when you step away from creating Mexican food?
- A: Sushi and Pho.
- Q: You worked as a chef on a private yacht. Anything unusual or noteworthy food-wise about sailing on the seven seas?
- A: Lots of fish, more than I knew what to do with. The experience allowed me to really expand on the different ways to cook and prepare fish with virtually everything.
- Q: What do you think of the whole gourmet food truck trend?
- A: I’ve tried most of the popular trucks. It’s funny, as a kid my dad would call them roach coaches or maggot wagons and now they are the in thing. I enjoy some of them.
- Q: What makes Matador different from other Mexican restaurants?
- A: I guess the cultural fusion of foods, and the many different cooking styles that you won’t find in a typical Mexican restaurant, but I like to think it’s also the personalized customer service in such things as that we like to honor most special requests, even if it’s not on the menu. If a guest asks for something off the menu, and we have the ingredients on hand, I will do my best to accommodate them.
- Q: What’s an item not on the menu you recently made for a guest?
- A: A bacon blue cheese quesadilla with a basalmic reduction.
- Q: Name a dish at Matador that is often overlooked, but you recommend everyone should try?
- A: Sangria braised short ribs. Trust me, you’ll love em’.
- Q: Most prefer beer or a margarita with Mexican cuisine, but Matador is known for pairing its meals with its popular handcrafted cocktails and extensive list of craft wines as well. What menu items go best with the wine menu?
- A: Our Steak ala Plancha goes great with a Cab and the Chorizo Ravioli is nice with a red Zin. We have a select portfolio of high quality, large and limited production wines from Spain, central coast and south America, all of which go very well with everything on the menu.
- Q: What do you do on your free time?
- A: Probably surfing, golfing, riding my motorcycle, and of course spending time with my wife (Kim) and baby boy (Zachary). Believe it not, you’ll also find me cooking, even at home. Gotta’ love it.
Thanks to Chef Dave for answering the questions and to Rob Hallstrom for facilitating the interview and helping with a couple questions. Read the other half of the menu by going to the OC Mex Food blog.
111 N Harbor Blvd
Fullerton, CA 92832