By Derek Sena
Great Taste Magazine 2016 March April Issue
DURING CHILDHOOD, MANY PEOPLE FIND ACTIVITIES THEY ENJOY AND LOVE.
Some children want to become actors, some want to become professional athletes, some want to become astronauts. For Chef Ron, becoming a veterinarian was that dream. Ron considered many aspirations; not only did he want to be a veterinarian, but perhaps an officer or a fireman.
He was so hard-working and smart, that as a young adult, he was accepted and was fulfilling pre-med courses at UCLA to realize his veterinary dream. But even with the multiple ambitions, as well as the prestige of UCLA premedicine, something was still not clicking. After long, arduous school days, Ron would turn the television on and watch one of his favorite shows on the Discovery Channel: Great Chefs. It was watching this show that he would
realize his true calling in life—to be a chef.
Ron always loved cooking. Growing up, cooking seemed like the most therapeutic event of each day. During an interview with Ron, he explained: “When I was in high school, I would get out of football practice, come home, and turn on the TV. [I was] beat. [I was] tired. I’d lay on the couch, flipping through the channels, and I would come across chefs on TV. It wasn’t even the Food Network. It was Discovery Channel. And they had this program called “Great Chefs.” They would highlight three chefs on a 30-minute program. That setting, where I would see a chef just cook a dish, and they would talk about the preparation—[they might be] from France and even need a translator. But the technique they would show on camera, the plating and the artistry and everything, I was wowed. I was so into it. I want to do
After high school when his parents split—and Ron was forced to move several times, going to several different community colleges—cooking was always a therapeutic past time. So, when he was dealing with the hardships of UCLA pre-med, he would remember the cooks on Great Chefs, and at that point it seemed like a no-brainer. Ron went to his school advisor and
dropped from UCLA. His advisor told him that, if the “cooking thing” did not pan out, he could always come back, but to Ron it was a point of no return.
In 2001, at the age of 25, Ron enrolled into Le Cordon Bleu. There, he worked hard to learn the foundational aspects of his trade. He then found his first kitchen job at Mistral, where he learned a great deal of seafood cooking techniques, before working at other esteemed establishments such as Melisse and Napa Rose. It was at Melisse that he would learn butchery, and it was at Napa Rose that he would develop his butchery techniques, from duck to fish to lamb. Napa Rose would come to be a very educational experience, as they had a “vintners menu,” where every week had a new menu. During his time at Napa Rose, he met his girlfriend, Bon Buttasin, a fellow cook. He worked at Napa Rose for seven years, becoming promoted to sous-chef when a fellow sous-chef had temporarily leave. Unfortunately, when that fellow sous-chef returned, Ron was returned to the line, and it was
soon after that, that he left Napa Rose and found his place at AnQi.
At AnQi, Chef Ron is pushed to the limit. Of course, when you work with the An family, the spotlight is always right above. Elizabeth An, daughter of the famous Chef Helene “Mama”, is the main operator of AnQi, and constantly pushes for new events and promotions! With large productions happening year ‘round, it is a wonder that he has the tenacity and perseverance to keep up. From fashion events, to catering off-site, to in-house promotions, new dishes are always being created. To Chef Ron, these productions are essential to success in fine dining: “Just having good food is not enough, these days. There’s too much competition.”
Through Chef Ron Lee’s culinary experiences, from his formal education at Le Cordon Bleu, to his kitchen jobs at Mistral, Melisse, Napa Rose, and AnQi, he says that the main take-away that everyone should prioritize is humility, something that he says he lacked early on in his career. He even said that that early ego costed him dearly, in that when being interviewed for potential work with the Four Seasons Hotel, it kept him from getting in the door. It was inspiring to hear what he had learned, ascribing these lessons to chefs he had worked and learned under: “Leave your attitude at the door. [Wherever you go,] come with a clean slate and just work. If you have something going on, just forget about it. [Like with athletes,] when you play, you just play. It’s game time.”
Chef Ron also ascribes worth to family. Once he’s off the clock, he likes to go home to his family, where he and his girlfriend raise a girl they’re hoping to adopt. “I’m almost 40 years old! There’s this biological yearning for someone small to take care of. And I got it now. Basically, it was that missing piece that I didn’t have. I have the career and the status. [ . . . ] What is fulfilling is coming home to hear ‘Papa, you’re home!’”
AnQi by House of An
3333 S. Bristol St.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
11:30am-9pm Sun & Mon
11:30am-11pm Fri & Sat
Lunch: $ 28
Dinner: $ 65
CHEF RON LEE – From Chef’s Mouth
ANNIVERSARY WITH THIS RESTAURANT I just celebrated my five year anniversary at AnQi on February 4, 2016
AVERAGE NUMBER OF HOURS YOU WORK IN A WEEK Approximately 60 hours
1ST COOKING OR FOOD-RELATED MEMORY When I was a kid, I remember walking into the
kitchen seeing big plastic buckets on the floor and
my parents were making Kim Chi.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST HOSPITALITY JOB I worked as a prep cook at Mistral – Beverly Hills
IF NOT A CHEF, WHAT WOULD YOU BE A police officer, I studied biology at UCLA before turning my love of cooking into a career.
KITCHEN GADGET OR TOOL I love Japanese knives – expensive ones especially Misono
KITCHEN APPLIANCE A great wok is my go to
COOKWARE French Copper pots and pans
DISH TO EAT Fresh from the oven baguette with gourmet Plugra butter, homemade ramen; never fails, nor does fried chicken
JUNK FOOD BBQ potato chips
RAW INGREDIENT I love working with all herbs especially exotic herbs – Vietnamese Tiato and Kinh Gioi
FAST FOOD Sushi in a Box
FOOD PROGRAM Iron Chef -Japan
MOST RECOMMENDED FOOD INGREDIENT SOURCE FOR FOODIES Melissa’s for fresh produce
& Zion Market in Irvine
BIGGEST MYTH ABOUT WORKING IN THE KITCHEN That it is a glamorous job
SIGNATURE OR FAVORITE DISH TO MAKE Too many to choose from but if I have to choose, a
well-seasoned juicy steak, cooked in a pan
3 WORDS BEST DESCRIBE YOUR CULINARY STYLE Clean, Timeless & Innovative
3 WORDS BEST DESCRIBE YOUR MANAGEMENT STYLE Patient, Hands-on & Motivating
ADVICE FOR STUDENTS INTERESTED IN THE HOSPITALITY AND CULINARY INDUSTRY If you
truly love to cook and work in this industry, work becomes easier and more fulfilling each day.