Growing up in Anaheim, Elie Ayrouth frequented the nautical-themed Jolly Roger with his family. Today, at 29, he heads Foodbeast, the Santa Ana-based food news site that has garnered billions of online impressions. He also co-hosts The Katchup, a weekly podcast on culinary trends.
What sparked your interest in food?
When I got my car junior year of high school, every day was an adventure. Instead of partying, my friends and I would just drive around and try new holes in the wall. Breakfast burritos? Check. Heat-lamp Chinese? Double check, with bubble guts on the side. Drive out to Laguna Beach and pretend to be rich? Triple check.
To what do you owe Foodbeast’s success?
It was started with $15 in 2008. My partners are my friends from high school and our video program is spearheaded by the same friend I made videos with growing up—shout out to Geoff, Rudy, Marc, and the entire team! The only reason Foodbeast was able to grow into a multimillion-dollar media company that serves billions of eyeballs yearly is because my partners and colleagues are awesome at what they do.
Any surprise celebrity fans?
Chrissy Teigen. It actually doesn’t surprise me anymore; our brands are pretty synergistic.
Camarones a la diabla quesadilla from Ostioneria Bahia 2 (in Orange). Spicy shrimp and delicious cheese.
Favorite food neighborhood?
Costa Mesa. It was where Foodbeast first officially set up shop. … I didn’t know much about the city, but every day we’d discover a new gem. Catalina Fish Kitchen, Habana, Taco Mesa, humorously cheesy and decadent dishes at Mi Casa, burritos at Super Pollo, fresh ingredients at El Toro Bravo, eating clams, drinking fancy cocktails, and partying at Mesa. … I never experienced such range in Orange County within two‑minute Ubers of each other.
I feel like an absolute dummy for not having gone there already, but El Mercado in Santa Ana. Danny Godinez is an incredible part of Orange County’s food scene, and
I love everything he does.
An O.C. gem?
You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu from Cancun Juice, especially the Chillyone smoothie (watermelon, lime, pineapple, and cucumber) and breakfast tortas.
Favorite O.C. splurge?
Selanne Steak Tavern. Their mac ‘n’ cheese is dumb good. I hate it when I ask someone about a new restaurant and they tell me to get the mac ‘n’ cheese because you gotta be an asshat to create a mac ‘n’ cheese that does not taste good. But dammit, these guys do a mac ‘n’ cheese with a Parmesan foam on top, and I highly recommend laying your face in it.
Most overrated Instagram trend in O.C.?
Any pastry placed on top of cups. Stop doing that shit. Either dunk the pastry in the drink, or stop being a poser.
Next food movement?
We just talked about this on our podcast, but Filipino food and Middle Eastern food are both having moments. Without trivializing either, they’ve both historically been available to us in O.C., but we’re gonna hear about them so much more.
Your most popular post on Instagram?
Raising Cane’s. Chicken tenders, their sauce, and crinkle cut fries. You can’t put up a bad Instagram picture from this place.
Any food you won’t eat?
Semen. There are cookbooks about it; I just don’t want to.
Hot topic in the food industry?
Bubble. What’s gonna happen to the casual dining restaurant chains we grew up on? When Applebee’s is doing $1 margaritas, there must be a lot more questions than answers about how these restaurants fit into our dining scene.
How would you say O.C.’s food scene has evolved from the days where your family would go to Jolly Roger?
I don’t think I was sentient enough an eater during my Jolly Roger’s days to speak on the food scene from the early 90s. I was too focused on notching levels on my Super Nintendo and eating Del Taco and Carl’s Jr. instead of exploring the wealth of delicious eats around Anaheim, Orange, Westminster and Garden Grove at the time.
The evolution does come in the emergence of more chef-driven and menu-changing concepts that I feel weren’t as prominent in the 1990s Orange County.
Who in O.C. would you want to have dinner with?
Both Bobby Navarro and Jason Quinn are hands-down the people you want to eat with if you’re in Orange County. They’re passionate and opinionated eaters, and you’ll leave every meal you eat together inspired and energetic.
Bobby runs as “Bourgeoius Bobby” in our Foodbeast Family. He loves the finer things —
and I’ve had many culinary firsts with him like dining at Disneyland’s Club 33 and getting shitfaced at some of the best cocktail bars Chicago has to offer.
Jason Quinn and I met at the beginning of each of our careers, he was opening up Playground in DTSA and Foodbeast was in a tiny warehouse space in Costa Mesa. We had known of each other for a while, I’d eaten at The Lime Truck and Playground’s soft opening — but it wasn’t until Foodbeast wrote an article about Jason telling one of his Yelp reviewing customers to “Burn in hell” that we became friends. While the story on his Gordon Ramsay-level of retort went viral and snowballed out of control, nightly news crews were shining cameras into his restaurant windows, his initial text to me was something akin to “Dude why did you write that shit about me?!”
A few weeks later, we were able to laugh about it all — his restaurant remains one of the most important places to eat at in Orange County, and the level of work and research he puts into his menus is unrivaled.
When he was working on a Lebanese-inspired dinner for his dinner and a show concept Playground 2.0, I recall myself, Marc (our Lebanese Director of Video) and Jason eating at every Lebanese restaurant in Anaheim. We ordered through entire menus and shared stories of Lebanese flavors and nuances Marc and I had from spending summers in the Middle East growing up. We work shopped Jason’s white-boy pronunciations of some egregiously tough-to-pronounce Lebanese foods. He could have just read a book, but he decided to feed us for 48 hours. I like that.
What do you think people need to do more?
I love sitting outside when I eat. I love it. We are blessed with damn near impeccable year-round weather. If you have the option to eat outside and part of your group wants to sit inside because it’s 71 degrees and not the preferred 73, tell them to go sit alone.
Any new food festivals on the horizon?
Our Noods Noods Noods was a blast last year, so we’re doing the sequel in two different cities for 2018, one in Santa Ana of course. It’s our largest festival to-date. I’m also petitioning our crew to throw a festival closer to the water…maybe on the water…Foodbeast-style. I feel like if I say it here it might will itself into existence. We’ll see.
Mark your calendar!
Foodbeast’s Noods Noods Noods festival is coming to Downtown Santa Ana on Jan. 27. Look for some of the best noodle dishes from a roster of Orange County restaurants. Get more details and purchase tickets here.