It’s been said, “the future is now” and this adage certainly holds true for Chef Gabriel Caliendo of the Lazy Dog Cafe. His future seemed to have been decided at an early age, while growing up in his mother and father’s deli. At the tender young age of seven, he began his culinary training in the back of his family’s deli cracking olives with a Progresso soup can while standing on a pickle bucket in order to reach the counter. Chef Gabe helped his father make seven different kinds of sausage, learned how to make charcuterie and hand-pulled fresh buffalo mozzarella – all before he could drive a car.
Then, when he turned 14 and was eager to set out on his own, Chef Caliendo began working at Round Table Pizza on a work permit. His innate understanding of the intricacies of restaurant business was quickly revealed to his bosses when they realized that not only could he make pizzas better than his older peers, but he was also knowledgeable about food costs – a skill he attributes to his parents teaching him how to be efficient in both the kitchen and the office. Chef Gabe stayed in the pizza industry working at various pizza places until he thought that he might try his hand in the corporate world.
Although Chef Gabe’s future may have been set at an early age, he still tried to leave the restaurant business to enter the world of suits, ties and “martini lunches” by serving up new car sales and heavy equipment loans instead of pizzas. Chef Caliendo is never one to waste an opportunity, and though he realized that corporate America was not for him, he still was able to learn a great deal more about business practices and use that knowledge in his culinary endeavors. Chef Gabe worked in sales for just 18 months, prolonging the inevitable for only a short time.
At 19, he decided to return to something more familiar – the kitchen. Not just any kitchen, though, the one at the Ritz Carlton. With no kitchen jobs immediately available, the only position available to Chef Gabe at the time was valet, parking cars. Soon after, he became a doorman fetching cars and luggage for the likes of Jim Carrey and President Nixon. Eventually, a job as an apprentice cook opened in the kitchen. Again, Chef Gabe demonstrated his culinary prowess quickly and he soared through the ranks at the Ritz. At this time, Chef Caliendo began attending Orange Coast College in order to receive an advanced culinary arts degree. He turned his stint at the Ritz into an apprenticeship and travelled to some of the most exclusive kitchens in France, where he was able to work with some of the best chefs in the country. Chef Gabe was able to reinforce and hone the already vast array of culinary skills available in his arsenal. While still working at the Ritz, and after graduating culinary school, Gabe began teaching culinary arts classes at Orange Coast College. This is when he met Chris Simms and his father Tom Simms, the founder of Mimi’s Cafe.
Tom and Chris had an idea for a new restaurant and they were eager for Gabe’s input once they had established a relationship. Tom and Chris’ original concept for the menu at Lazy Dog was “Something for Everyone.” This appealed to Chef Gabe because his culinary palate was broad and he wanted to create dishes which were familiar to restaurant patrons, but new and exciting versions. Over the years, Chef Caliendo has altered the restaurant’s original concept to read, “Something for Everyone, but not Everything is for Everyone.” With this adventurous culinary mindset, Chef Gabe has kept the menu at Lazy Dog ahead of what is trendy – by actually setting the trends himself. He doesn’t want to limit his culinary scope and strives to bring exciting, new dishes and flavors into the mainstream. The menu is all his own (with consent from the other two owners, of course) and he concocts all the bar drinks as well. A prime example of his culinary and mixology mastery is his signature Phuket Thai Martini which consists of crystallized ginger, lime juice, Malibu rum, Absolute Peppar, fresh mint, fresh basil and fresh jalapeno. He first came up with the name of the drink and then worked backward from there. Chef Gabe’s intent was to create Thai coconut curry in beverage form and he definitely achieved it.
There are many things found on the Lazy Dog menu that are not found on a “normal” menu. Chef Gabe and his partners change the menu twice per year. In May, they create a Spring/Summer menu that features lighter dishes, and in November, they switch to a Fall/Winter menu with a showcase of heartier dishes. Chef Caliendo does the research and development work for all of the Lazy Dog locations and currently contemplating how to run a central kitchen for all of the restaurant locations. Consistency is key in keeping with his meticulous nature and his desire to ensure quality, he strives to maintain the integrity of each component for the dishes while making them in larger quantities. With his extensive knowledge of all things culinary, one would think that he is working to open his own restaurant one day. However, surprisingly, he has no dreams of ever owning his own restaurant. His goal is to retire from the Lazy Dog and hopefully his career at the restaurant will be a means to an end which will allow him to retire on several acres of land and to become a farmer. He is drawn to the romantic idea of owning and cultivating his own land while producing high quality, organically-grown foods – to become an artisan of another sort. True to form, Chef Gabe, while working at the Lazy Dog, is creating his future in the now.
To view Chef Gabe’s Cast Iron Idaho Trout recipe, visit our recipes page.
Chef Gabriel Caliendo
LAZY DOG CAFE
16152 BEACH BLVD #220
HUNTINGTON BEACH, CA 92647
IF YOU OVERSEE MULTI UNITS – HOW MANY? 7
WHAT IS YOUR ANNIVERSARY WITH THIS RESTAURANT? August 2003.
WHAT IS THE RESTAURANT’S ANNIVERSARY? August 2003.
WHAT ARE THE RESTAURANT’S HOURS? 11:00 am-11:00 pm & Fri. / Sat. to midnight.
AVERAGE NUMBER OF HOURS YOU WORK IN A WEEK? 60 + hours.
WHAT IS THE AVERAGE COVER FOR ONE GUEST INCLUDING BEVERAGE?
Lunch: $8-11 and Dinner: $14-18.
FIRST COOKING OR FOOD-RELATED MEMORY: Standing on a pickle bucket to reach the counter & cracking fresh olives for marinating.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB? Roundtable Pizza at 14 1/2 on a work permit.
WHAT FIRST INTERESTED YOU THE THE HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY? I grew up in the back of an Italian Deli.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST HOSPITALITY JOB? Working with my parents in their deli after school. They are amazing cooks.
IF NOT A CHEF, WHAT WOULD YOU BE? A farmer, growing grapes, hops, cherries, agave or anything edible or fermentable.
FAVORITE KITCHEN GADGET OR TOOL: Birds beak paring knife.
FAVORITE KITCHEN APPLIANCE: Immersion blender.
FAVORITE TYPE OF COOKWARE: Cast iron.
FAVORITE CONDIMENT / SPICE: Chile pastes: harissa, sambal, yuzukosho, siriacha.
MOST RECOMMENDED KITCHEN TOOL & SOURCE (ONLINE OR RETAIL SHOP) FOR HOME KITCHENS: Food processor by Robot Coupe . . . Sur La Table.
MOST RECOMMENDED FOOD INGREDIENT SOURCE (ONLINE OR RETAIL SHOP FOR FOODIES: Various . . . depends on what you are looking for.
BIGGEST MYTH ABOUT WORKING IN THE KITCHEN: That it’s not easy. It’s only hard if you don’t love what you are doing!
SIGNATURE OR FAVORITE DISH TO MAKE: Paella Valenciana or Moroccan Tagines.
OTHER CUISINES WORKED WITH: Almost all . . . I need more work on my Middle Eastern cuisines.
HOBBIES: Snowboarding, Surfing, Gardening, Cooking. Flintknapping, DoroDango.
FAMILY INFO: Awesome wife Robin, 9 year old son Kaden, and 6 year old daughter Makayla.
FAVORITE OC RESTAURANT: Gen Kai before it burned down.
FAVORITE DISH TO EAT: Sushi.
FAVORITE JUNK FOOD: Cookies & milk.
FAVORITE RAW INGREDIENT: Hamachi
FAVORITE FAST FOOD: In N’ Out without a doubt.
DO YOU WATCH FOOD TV? IF SO, WHICH PROGRAM(S) IS (ARE) YOUR FAVORITE?
Kitchen Nightmares, Top Chef, Lidia’s Italian, Iron Chef.
FAMOUS CHEFS YOU’VE MET: Paul Bocuse, Emeril Lagasse, Charlie Trotter, Hubert Keller.
CULINARY HERO(ES): Connie & Jerry Caliendo
WHAT OTHER PUBLICATIONS HAVE YOU BEEN FEATURED IN? OC Register, LA Times, Nations Restaurant News, KTLA News.
YEARS OF CULINARY EDUCATION: 3
SCHOOL: Orange Coast College
OTHER EDUCATION: Certified Executive Chef from American Culinary Federaton, Advanced Ice Carving from Mark Daukus.
PLACES TRAVELED TO EXPLORE & LEARN ADDITIONAL CUISINES: France, Italy, Spain, Hawaii, & the Greek Islands.
YEARS IN BUSINESS: FOH: 2-3. And BOH: 25
One of my favorite all time summer condiments for seafood
1 pint Grape or cherry tomatoes
1 T Thyme – chopped
1/2 C Olive oil
2 t Sea salt
1/2 t Black pepper
2 Shallots – sliced thin
4 Garlic cloves – sliced thin
1. Toss all items together.
2. Roast in 350 degree oven for half an hour covered and half an hour uncovered.
3. Drain off excess juices and olive oil and use for an amazing salad dressing.
4. Chill tomato confit and serve in many different ways.
By: Chef Gabe Caliendo – Lazy Dog Cafe
Cast Iron Idaho Trout
Roasted Summer Vegetables
Sea Salt Roasted Marble Potatoes
Citrus-Walnut Brown Butter
Sustainably farmed boneless skin-on Idaho Trout
Veggies & Potatoes
1 T Tomatoes, small diced
1 t Italian Parsley, chopped fine
1/2 Lemon, seeds removed. Seasoned and charred “a la plancha”
Veggies & Potatoes
1 oz Zucchini – cubed
1 oz Goldbar squash – cubed
1 oz Roasted red bell peppers – strips
1 oz Mushrooms – assorted sliced
1 t Fresh thyme – chopped
1 t Sea salt
1 t Black pepper – freshly ground
1 t Garlic – freshly chopped
1 oz Olive oil
2 oz Tri-colored marble size potatoes
1. Pre-heat oven to 500 degrees.
2. Toss veggies in half of the thyme, salt, pepper, garlic and olive oil.
3. Toss tri-colored potatoes in other half of same ingredients.
4. Place on separate sheet pans.
5. Roast until veggies are charred lightly and still firm to touch.
6. Roast potatoes until tender in middle.
7. Toss potatoes with veggies and adjust seasonings.
3 oz Butter
1 oz Walnuts – chopped
1/2 oz Lemon juice
1/2 oz Lime juice
3/4 oz Orange juice
1/4 t Sea salt
1/4 t Black pepper
1 t Red bell pepper brunoise
1. Heat saute pan with butter and walnuts in pan.
2. Toast walnuts lightly and wait until butter is brown but not black.
3. Deglaze with citrus juices and reduce slightly.
4. Season and finish with salt, pepper and bell pepper brunoise.
To finish the dish:
1. Season trout with salt and pepper.
2. Place veggies and potatoes on skillet.
3. Lean raw trout up against veggies and potatoes.
4. Roast in oven until trout is cooked and veggies/potatoes are hot.
5. Pour citrus-walnut butter over the top.
6. Garnish with fresh tomatoes, charred lemon and parsley.
Recipe by Chef Gabe Caliendo at Lazy Dog Cafe