Chatting With Anthony Dismuke, Sous Chef at Benchmark in Santa Ana

The O.C. native is a sous chef at Benchmark, one of our Best New Restaurants this year.
Photograph by Emily J. Davis

What was your favorite childhood dish?
My mom’s oxtail pho. Oxtail is very prominent in Southern cooking, and my mom loves pho, so she would combine the two. We always had black eyed peas, which were a symbol of (good) luck, on New Year’s Eve.”

What inspired your culinary career?
My mother always told me that the best thing to do is follow your passion and get paid to do something you love. My mom was a huge cook. Whenever she came home, she would cook these amazing meals—everything from Japanese to African cuisine. That’s what connected me to cooking different styles. I started cooking a little bit before she passed away. When she passed away, I was like “I’m going to dedicate myself fully to it.” So, I quit my job doing electrical which was a huge thing (because) I was a manager and I was making a lot of money. I felt like I really had to take that dive into doing something I love. Without going to culinary school, I was just like, “I need to start somewhere.” I jumped into Rainforest Cafe at Downtown Disney.

What are you like in the kitchen?
I try not to be too serious because cooking and creating is all about fun; if you’re bogged down by the seriousness of it, it blocks your creative side. This is our (livelihood) and our passion, but let’s not forget our mental health and what we need to accomplish outside of the kitchen.

What’s a surprising job you’ve had?
I worked at Club 33 (at Disneyland) as a busser and bartender. Meeting and taking care of celebrities like Michael Jackson’s family, Justin Bieber, and Selena Gomez was really cool.

Favorite dish to prepare at Benchmark?
I love searing fish so probably the pan-seared salmon with peach gastrique, pickled onion, fennel salad, and black eyed pea succotash. 

Can you share a tip for home cooks?
Something very simple and easy that people seem to forget is to start off with all of your ingredients that you’re going to use when you start cooking already prepared which is your mise en place. Have your onions cut, your shallots cut, garlics minced, have your fish already set and ready to go. Have everything ready just like a cooking show and then start cooking. If you already have everything set and ready, you’re set up for success.

What’s something most people don’t know about you?
No one really knows that I have knowledge with electronics and building computers. I would probably say that that’s my hobby. 

What is your dream role?
I have really always wanted to do private dining. My original goal was to get caught up with a celebrity or music artist that wanted to have their own private chef. I would probably say the top music artists (I’d like to cook for) would be J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar. 

Who is your culinary mentor?
Chef Zach Geerson (at the former Journeyman’s Kitchen). He took me under his wing without any fine dining experience, and I went from being his cook to being his sous chef. He was there for me all the time not only for support in the kitchen but anything that was going on outside my life; he was just a good friend. He’s 100 percent the perfect mentor and even though he’s four years younger than me, it felt like he was my father. My respect for him is just through the roof. After (Journeymans Kitchen) was named (Orange Coast’s Restaurant of the Year), he actually gave me the award plaque. I knew after that I really had to take this to the end.

How can your industry improve?
Black chefs are underrepresented in Orange County: I can probably count them on one hand. (Leaders) should give more opportunities to Black Americans and any minorities. The reason I was able to get my start is because chef Zach believed in me.

Catch Anthony Dismuke on The Best Ceats podcast!

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