by Heather Myers
For most of us, the hope, dreams and aspirations we have as naive first graders fizzle out as we become adults.
We realize the time and effort that is required in order to obtain those goals and we change direction to something more attainable. This is not true for Chef Mark McDonald.
At the young age of six, thanks to a class mock restaurant project put on by his first grade teacher, McDonald knew that someday he would own a restaurant. “That was what planted the seed for me,” McDonald stated.
Marks father being in the hospitality industry made an early impression as well. McDonald recalls eating and learning proper dining etiquette, as well as making omelets with his father, as some of his earliest childhood memories.
Chef Mark studied at Laguna Culinary Arts, and then moved to Calabria, Italy to study under Master Chef John Nocita at the Italian Culinary Institute.
McDonald opened up Old Vine CafÃ© alongside his brother, Brandon, in 2007. The award-winning restaurant is located in the heart of Costa Mesa, in The Camp shopping center. After a couple of years in business, McDonald bought out his brother’s half and has been running the restaurant ever since.
The food at Old Vine CafÃ© is described by Chef Mark as “eclectic, globally inspired cuisine.” He draws inspiration from everywhere.
Europe has a huge piece of McDonald’s heart. After completing his first trip to Italy he fell in love with the simplicity of the country. He knew he Chef Mark McDonald wanted to go back at least once a year to continue to learn about the cuisine and the culture. Now, McDonald hosts culinary tours with Chef John in Northern and Southern Italy annually.
The Splendors of South Italy culinary tour happens every year during the springtime in Calabria, Sicily and the southern most cities of Italy. Chef Mark and Chef John bring groups of clients there to gain knowledge of the food and share the experience of the slow lifestyle with them.
The trip consists of a five-course welcome dinner, cultural travel where historical sites and medieval villages are visited, as well as free time to explore the magical town of Taormina.
“We visit a completely sustainable farm property for a day and we tour the farm. Then we bring in a chef who prepares a feast for us with all of the raw ingredients that come from the land. It’s usually a 10 to 14 course feast that we have paired with wine from the grapes that they grow there.”
Chef Mark says each time he goes on the culinary tours, he is humbled by the constant education and learning. From learning new techniques to perfecting years-old ones, the wealth of knowledge is inspiring for him.
The new Northern Italy culinary tour will make its debut in 2016 and is already sold out. However, the itinerary will be the same for each year of the tour. Those that were unable to sign up in time for the 2016 tour can look forward to the 2017 tour. The 2016 Southern tour still has spots available.
As Chef Mark continues to gain knowledge and experience in the hospitality industry, he is humble about his success and knows not to push things too far too fast.
“This little alcove, our location has become such a part of the restaurant, this is home for Old Vine CafÃ©. I think the biggest mistake that any restaurant owner in my capacity can make is to try to grow or expand too quickly. I am still not completely maximizing the potential that I have for growth here.”
McDonald aspires to be a true student of food. His favorite thing about cooking is the evolution of information that is out there for him to learn. Old Vine CafÃ© is open for breakfast and lunch from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily and is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday starting at 5 p.m. and keeps Chef Mark’s hands full.