How did your culinary career get started? I grew up with my grandmother in Costa Rica so I learned how to cook from her when I was 5 years old. I’ve always cooked but never took it as a career until I was laid off in 1999 from a company I was working for. They offered me an opportunity to go to school and they told me I could do culinary arts.
When did you start making hot sauce? I used to work as the executive chef at a golf club in Chicago. One day, I decided to bring some habanero peppers with me from home and I threw them in the blender and started throwing stuff in there, tasting it and blending it up. Next thing you know, Tico Rico is born.
Where did the name Tico Rico come from? They call Costa Ricans Ticos. Rico means rich. It’s my name and it also means flavorful. It’s a play on words.
You also have the saying Pura Vida on your bottles. What does that mean? In Costa Rica, it’s a term of endearment. Anybody that goes to Costa Rica knows the term because that’s what we do. Costa Ricans are very friendly people. Whatever you do, make sure it’s on your bucket list because it’s a beautiful place.
Did you have any other mentors growing up? My grandmother’s best friend took over and helped my mother, who was the eldest of eight children, raise seven other kids after my grandmother passed away from childbirth. I learned to cook from her. She cooked a lot of Caribbean stuff.
Tell us about some of your hot sauce flavors. The habanero is spicy, but it’s very flavorful. I love hot stuff, but it can’t burn me for no good reason. It has to have some flavor. The serrano lime is really tasty. It’s less heat, but has a lot of flavor. It’s very refreshing and goes well with seafood. The acidity freshens it up a little bit. The seasonal trio is really hot and has Carolina Reaper, the hottest pepper in the world; ghost, which is the second hottest; and habanero. We only have it seasonally because I grow my own Reapers and my ghosts.
When the stay-at-home order was first implemented, chef Karlo Evaristo’s newfound passion for sourdough became his main source of income. His bread’s standout purple hue is achieved through a combination of blue corn and butterfly pea flower. Another key ingredient? Freshly milled flour. $15
Paul Cao, executive chef-owner of Burnt Crumbs in Irvine and Huntington Beach, is the latest local chef to represent O.C. on Food Network’s “Chopped.” In the episode titled “Soup and Sandwich Savvy,” Cao will face chefs in three rounds of cooking challenges. In each round, they are asked to prepare a soup-and-sandwich duo incorporating all the ingredients (usually unconventional) in a curated basket. The episode airs Sept. 22 at 9 p.m.
We talked to Cao about his experience on the show:
Did you prepare for the show in any way?
In terms of the savory stuff (appetizer and entree), I felt pretty confident. I wasn’t very confident about having something in my back pocket for dessert. I called my chef friends and asked them for easy recipes. Is there anything quick I can make in 20 minutes? I had a churro recipe, an ice cream recipe, and a funnel cake recipe in my back pocket.
Did the show meet your expectations? Having watched the show so many times, I felt like I was prepared for whatever they threw at me. In terms of what I expected and what the reality was, it was night and day. It was honestly the hardest cooking thing I’ve ever done in my life and I’ve been doing this for about 18 years. I’ll never talk shit on anyone on “Chopped” again. Each round was 30 minutes, but it really felt like two minutes. It goes by so fast, and each round feels like it’s going faster and faster. I would say the time constraints are way harder than what they give you in the baskets. It’s actually more of a mental competition than anything. I have mad props to everyone who’s ever done it. It is way harder than you think.
What does being on “Chopped” mean to you? I honestly did it for my kids. I have two boys, a four-year-old and a five-year-old. I honestly did it for them because I wanted them to think daddy was cool being on TV. Besides doing it for my kids, I was really proud to represent O.C. on the show. I grew up here, I was born here. Any kind of exposure we can get to bring a little more attention to Orange County is great. I think there’s a lot of talent here.
Both Burnt Crumbs locations are open for patio dining and takeout. Tune into a livestream “Chopped” watching party with Paul Cao on Instagram. instagram.com/burntcrumbs/
With master’s degrees from the University of Edinburgh and the University for Peace in Costa Rica, the Orange resident is the founder of the Global Poetry Project, an arts program bringing diverse people together to share their cultures and stories. At the Muck, she aims to foster creativity and a sense of community with a series of poetry workshops.
WORKSHOP THEMES I’ve done virtual workshops on haiku and rhyme. Participation has been great. We’ve had a range of participants in age—kids all the way through seniors. Most people have been Muck members and have called in from the area, but there have been a few who have called in from New Jersey and other places. I don’t require any writing experience. I want it to be very accessible to everyone. It’s not just about having a haiku workshop; it’s also about bringing people together during this pandemic and getting them to maybe do something new since they’re sitting indoors.
BREAKING THE RULES Haikus are traditionally Japanese, and the Japanese sound units are very different than English syllables. It’s commonly taught as 5-7-5 because that’s an easy way to do it, but it’s not a rule that you have to follow. There’s a famous haiku writer named Jane Reichhold, and I learned that from a book that she has. In my first haiku workshop, I said let’s forget about this. There are plenty of rules we have to follow in the pandemic. Let’s ditch that one. I think it’s liberating. It can be fun for people to count syllables, but I find it cumbersome.
BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS I started the Global Poetry Project when I was teaching at Concordia University in the (English as a second language) department. My students—who were coming from all around the world—were talking to me about their immersion experiences. I thought, let’s give the domestic students on campus poetry and literature from places where all my international students are from so they can learn about them. That’s how it started. I think there were 22 different cultures and languages represented. The poems were put in displays all around the campus. So there were poems in their native languages and in the English translation. And we had a poetry reading and some of the (ESL) students got to read poems in their native languages and share and meet students and faculty who they might not have gotten to know otherwise.
POSTING POETRY IN BATHROOMS (At U Peace), I partnered with a group of Central American students who were doing a dialogue series on the history and politics of Central America. The student population is so diverse at U Peace, 50-plus nationalities. Sometimes when you put things up in a hallway, there’s no guarantee someone is going to stand there and read it. But if it’s on the bathroom door or above the urinal, they don’t have a choice. As I began researching, there’s actually a lot of politics around toilets and the use of public bathrooms. It fit the project quite well. That was fun because the involvement was high. There were poems in every single stall and above every urinal on campus.
What are some differences between traditional board games and the ones you sell? Ours tend to have a lot more depth. Traditional games like Monopoly and Yahtzee are pretty luck based. With the games I carry, they have dice and chance, but they involve more strategy. In a game like Catan, you’re bartering with your friends. There might be a story or you might get to play a character.
How did you get into this industry? I was in college and my then-girlfriend wanted me to have a job. She walked by this store called The Game Castle (in Fullerton). She got me a job, and I worked there for 13 years.
What made you decide to open your own store? Once the owner of The Game Castle decided to close shop, I thought, “Why don’t I just open up my own game store?” So I did that, which was a really dumb idea because it was in 2008, right during the recession. The first three or four years were pretty rough, but we survived. They say if you can survive the first few years, you’re OK. The whole thing is building a community.
Are people playing board games more often now? Definitely. I have a very loyal community of customers here, and that’s what they’ve been doing. They were playing games before (the pandemic), and now they’re like, “Well, it’s just an excuse to play more games.” One key thing is a lot of couples who are isolating have been coming in and buying out all of my two-player games.
The signature burnt Basque cheesecake from Uprising O.C. is a rebellious take on the traditional cheesecake—baked at a higher heat and for a much shorter time. This yields a characteristic caramelized surface and a light, smooth texture you’ll crave for days. Order a whole cake for $50 (feeds eight to 16) and expect a personal delivery by chef Joshua Lozano. This month, he launched a beer collaboration with Huntington Beach-based Riip Beer Company inspired by his signature item featuring graham crackers and caramelized lemons.
What inspired you to start making this type of cheesecake? It began as a total accident; I have always been very curious and hungry to try new recipes. When my family proposed to me that they wanted cheesecake for dessert one night, I saw it as a perfect excuse to try something new. This type of cheesecake was very appealing to me because it is the exact opposite way I have always been taught to make a cheesecake. Typically to make one it is cooked low and slow in a Bane Marie and with our original rebel cheesecake it is cooked very hot and very fast. This is how you achieve such deep caramelization and the creaminess inside.
What is the price range for your cheesecakes? If you order from us, it is $50 for a 10” cheesecake. It can feed anywhere from 8-16 people depending on your portion size. We are working on some wholesale accounts and perhaps offering different sizes for people.
What other items do you offer? We offer a hyper-seasonal treat menu which can range from cookies and panna cotta to cakes and pies. Our menu currently is very limited being a one-man operation and is hyper-seasonal because I get my ingredients from the local farmers markets each week.
What’s the best way for people to order? Currently, until our website is up and running we are taking orders through direct messaging on Instagram and payment through Venmo.
What’s next? We are looking at a place to call home in Santa Ana. So, until then we are delivering all over Southern California from deep in the Inland Empire to East Los Angeles and everything in between.
Huntington Beach resident Brandon Lewis began CherryHills Market as an online shop. Now customers can peruse his farmhouse-style storefront where they’ll find an assortment of home decor and accessories, gourmet food products, jewelry and candles made by local artisans, and more. “We’re like a gift store on steroids; there’s a little bit of something for everybody,” Lewis says. “It’s not just a place to come shop—it’s a place to be inspired.”
How did you start CherryHills Market? It started in 2014 as an online business. It was a (collaboration) with my partner Justin Scott. He was more on the logistics and branding side of things, and my passion came in with the food products that we would sell. Fast-forward to 2015: We went to the Orange County Fair, and we had a booth. Recruiters from the Pacific City mall were walking around and saw us, and they were looking for store holders. We went into the agreement as a pop-up vendor temporarily for a year. Here we are now with a permanent lease.
You have such a wide array of products. How do you choose what to carry? I’m highly influenced by my grandmother. She had a lot of trinkets and knickknacks. Also whatever is inspiring me at the time. Right now, it’s a lot of themes that have to do with equality and center around love. I also look for things you can’t find on Amazon. That’s my biggest thing really, which takes a lot of work in itself, but just making sure that we remain unique. We have chocolate jalapeno balsamic vinegar and lavender aged balsamic.
Can you share details of the spices? We make our spices in-house. I hand grind and blend them in the shop every two weeks, so they’re always fresh. Sweet onion sugar is a secret weapon of ours. Our most popular spice is called Cocoa Joe. The cocoa part in the name is dark cocoa sugar and the Joe part of the name comes from coffee, which is a natural meat tenderizer.
What do you see locals shopping for? Locals come in to fill up on their oil and vinegar. We sell quality olive oil that’s from California; and our balsamic vinegar is imported from Italy, but it’s aged really thick and delicious. Our bring-back program basically means you buy any products with our brand name—our olive oil or spices—and you’ll get a discount on a refill. Also beach-themed decor. If your decor is in blues, teals, things of that nature, come see us.
Tell us about the cooking and craft classes you offer. (With the pandemic), we’re going to condense things so instead of classes being open to the public, it’s private events only. We have cooking classes where you can make ravioli or French almond macaron cookies. We always do a pumpkin succulent workshop. We take pumpkins and live succulents and place them on top of live moss (inside the pumpkin) so they can live and breathe. We have appetizers using the products in our store, and wine, too, so that’s a lot of fun. Our CBD class is free. Bloom Farms is the name of the brand (we carry), and there’s a representative who comes out from the company and gives all the information there is to know about CBD.
Birgundi Baker “The Chi” Baker, 28, has always had the performing arts in her blood. Growing up, the North Carolina native often drove to New York with her family to watch her aunt perform in student acting showcases at Juilliard. Through her performance as Kiesha Williams on Lena Waithe’s Showtime drama “The Chi,” Baker hopes to amplify the voices of missing and abused Black women. In the third season, which aired in June, Baker’s character was promoted to a series regular. She’ll also play the main character in the forthcoming short film “Circuit,” which sheds light on human trafficking.
Auli’i Cravalho “The Power” and “All Together Now” Even if you haven’t seen Cravalho in a movie before, you’ve probably heard her: The 19-year-old native Hawaiian actress made her debut as the voice of Disney’s Moana in 2016. Now she’s cementing her place in Hollywood with leading roles in the forthcoming Amazon Prime series “The Power”and in the teen Netflix movie “All Together Now,” which dropped in August. Cravalho also generated buzz in April when she came out as bisexual via TikTok.
DRESS $3,600 and SOCKS Price upon request, Dior, South Coast Plaza, 714-549-4700 SHOES $695, Mia Becar, miabecar.com RING $1,500, BRACELET (top) $17,000, and BRACELET (bottom) $9,000, Tiffany & Co., South Coast Plaza, 714-540-5330
Javicia Leslie “Batwoman” In preparation for her upcoming titular role in the CW series “Batwoman,” Leslie, 33, has taken up muay thai. Leslie made waves in the entertainment industry when, after the sudden departure of then-lead Ruby Rose, it was announced that she would become the first Black or bisexual actress to play Batwoman. “I knew that this was something that was just so much bigger, and it made me kind of reevaluate (the role),” Leslie says. “Even though I’m doing something I love, I get to change the world while I do it.” The new season premieres January 2021.
JACKET $1,790, TOP$575, SKIRT $1,290, andTIGHTS $65, Max Mara, South Coast Plaza, 714-754-7900 RINGS $8,500 (index finger) and $1,120 (ring finger) WATCH $31,100, Cartier, South Coast Plaza, 714-540-8231
Josephine Langford “After We Collided” Before Langford, 22, made it in Hollywood, she passed out flyers in a shopping center while wearing an Elmo costume. “It gets really sweaty in the suit,” the Australian actress says. “I think I got in trouble once because a kid dabbed and I dabbed back.” Because of her 2019 breakout performance as Tessa Young in the movie “After,” Langford won’t have to return to the Elmo suit anytime soon. Many say the “After”series, based on the popular books by Anna Todd, is positioned to be the next “Twilight.”The sequel, “After We Collided,” premieres Sept. 2.
DRESS, BELT, and SHOES, Chanel, South Coast Plaza, 714-754-7455
Ramona Young “Never Have I Ever” Young, 22, had a minor role on “Santa Clarita Diet,” and her performance as a deadpan drug store clerk earned her a reputation as a certified scene-stealer. Now Young is receiving praise for subverting Asian American stereotypes in her portrayal of Eleanor Wong—a boy-obsessed, theater-loving teen—on Mindy Kaling’s new coming-of-age comedy series “Never Have I Ever.” The prolific actress says she also wants to write, produce, and make her own movies. During quarantine, she has been working on a 19th-century Western about a Chinese heroine’s journey to rescue her long-lost father.
Photographer: Ben Duggan Fashion Director and Stylist: Stefan Campbell Leslie: Makeup Dion Xu / Hair Sean Fears Baker: Hair Tiffany Daughtery, Celestine Agency / Makeup Kai Pritchard Cravalho: Hair and Makeup Kelly Shew Langford:Hair Clayton Hawkins, A-Frame Agency / Makeup Kristin Hilton Young: Hair and Makeup Sarah Huggins
When good news can be hard to come by, it’s exciting to learn about options for a delicious meal out, in a safe environment, with entertainment included—though perhaps in a different format than we expect. Several restaurants in Orange County have gotten creative with special prix-fixe meals and offerings to take your mind off reality, for just a few hours. Here are a few examples of our local creatives doing what they do best.
Fable & Spirit
The folks at our pick for Restaurant of the Year keep innovating and collaborating in fresh ways. Case in point: teaming with the Lido Theater to host prix-fixe dinners under the historic marquee on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for the next few months. This week’s theme is Southern Fried, featuring a green zebra tomato salad, fried chicken, bacon collard greens, and peach crisp ($40). You’ll sit outside, gaze at the mosaic tiles, neon lights, and historic ticket booth, while taking in themed music and delighting in an atmosphere that feels quaint and safe. Keep an eye on social media for each week’s theme and menu to match.
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The final two weeks of the Summer Jazz Lunch at Bayside series, in collaboration with The Barclay Theatre, take place this month. Be treated to phenomenal jazz musicians—Anthony Wilson this Saturday and the Jeff Hamilton Trio on Sept. 26—while dining on a three-course lunch ($90 and up). The restaurant makes sure the tables are socially distanced and outdoors, so you can relax and lose yourself in the music and the savory food from Bayside.
What better spot to relax than a patio at Sherman Gardens? Taking full advantage of the beautiful space and our temperate weather, Chef Pascal Olhats and his team host Dinner for Two Under the Stars on Thursday nights ($130 per person). Dive into a four-course French extravaganza while watching the sun go down and the lights come up in a location made for romance.