10 Minutes with Rich Mead

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Chef Rich Mead_2120_credit John Gilhooley
Rich Mead, owner and executive chef at Farmhouse at Roger’s Gardens | Photo by John Gilhooley

The owner and executive chef of Farmhouse at Roger’s Gardens shares some of his favorite places as well as tips for holiday cooking.

By Sharon Stello

 

Rich Mead, the acclaimed executive chef and owner of Farmhouse at Roger’s Gardens, started cooking as a kid, whipping up Sunday breakfast at home with his brothers. He learned by watching his mom and then began working in restaurants during summers as a teenager, washing dishes and getting promoted to “weekend toast maker” during the school year.

It’s hard to believe this beloved local chef had such humble beginnings in the kitchen, but it helped him build a firm foundation. Originally from Washington, D.C., he eventually moved to Los Angeles and then to Newport Beach, where his brother was living, in 1997 to open Sage in Eastbluff and later, Farmhouse. But it took a while to get to this point, strengthening his skills and resume along the way.

In college, he had jobs in the campus cafeteria and a few restaurants during summer breaks. After graduation, he worked briefly for the government, then set out on a cross-country adventure. “I found that kitchens were good places to work as you traveled because, most importantly, you would always get fed,” he says.

In the early 1980s, he moved from Mammoth Lakes to LA and, with a group of friends, opened Stanley’s Restaurant in Sherman Oaks. Mead served as chef and kitchen manager. “One of the owners at the time, Greg Sadofsky, introduced me to so many of the great restaurants in Los Angeles … and encouraged me to go out and taste as much as I could.

Rich Mead_6479_credit John Gilhooley
Mead is known for incorporating fresh, seasonal and locally sourced ingredients. | Photo by John Gilhooley

“… During the ’80s and early ’90s, … the Los Angeles dining scene was growing and the excitement and creativity involved was really exhilarating,” he adds. “Exploring and tasting was exciting and my goal became creating and opening my own restaurant.”

Eventually, that dream became a reality. Fast-forward to his current restaurant, Farmhouse, where Mead says he loves having the ability to be creative, as well as the fast pace and the chance to meet “wonderful and interesting people.”

“People might not realize that every night in a restaurant is like a performance: You have your script—the menu—which you are following, and there is a beginning, the intense rush in the middle as well as an end to your performance, and the next day you start again,” he says. “The performance is never the same, but you and your team strive every day to excel.”

Mead is known for incorporating fresh, seasonal and locally sourced ingredients, regularly shopping at the Santa Monica Farmers Market.

“The produce we get from the farmers also allows us to build our ‘palette’ to use in creating dishes and drinks,” Mead says. “Working in the seasons enhances the flavors, from the freshness and the ability to source fruits and vegetables at their peak.” Freshness is key, he says, and “knowing [that] the people you are buying from care about their product and the land they grow the veggies on is important to help us to sustain.”

Winter typically brings squash, greens, root vegetables, citrus and cruciferous veggies. With this in mind, Mead anticipates bringing Brussels sprouts back to the menu as well as Farmhouse’s enchilada with roasted spaghetti squash, caramelized onions and greens. Also look for the Schaner Family Farms citrus and avocado salad, mahi-mahi, swordfish, and hoisin-glazed pork tenderloin served with Koda Farms brown rice and a tangerine, shallot and mint relish.

For those cooking holiday meals at home, Mead offers these tips. “Roasting vegetables … [is] a great way to go during the holiday season—you can prep ahead and finish in the oven,” he says. “… It’s also great to incorporate hard squashes and cruciferous vegetables—Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower [and] kale, among others—and root vegetables, which are very flavorful in the winter as the cold weather [and] frost helps sweeten their flavor.”

Loyal Farmhouse diners will be happy to hear that the restaurant is working on bottling some of its sauces and its vinaigrette to enjoy at home—or give as a gift. “We are always searching for new and exciting things to share with our guests,” Mead says.

Below, the longtime Newport resident talks about some of his favorite local places to visit when not at the restaurant.

 

IMG_5241 Juliette’s Cafe & Coffee Culture_no credit
Juliette’s Cafe & Coffee Culture

Morning Meals

Opened over the summer on Westcliff Drive by the former owners of the now-closed Juliette Kitchen & Bar, JULIETTE’S CAFE & COFFEE CULTURE has caught Mead’s attention. “[It’s] a great place to eat and relax with great food and good friends,” he says.

 

The Image Partyshutterstock_1466904905
Dory Fleet Market | Photo by The Image Party/Shutterstock.com

Fresh Fish

As a chef, Mead appreciates the local DORY FLEET MARKET, where he sometimes goes in the early morning to buy razorback shrimp. “Dory Fleet has great quality seafood,” Mead says. “As a chef, it’s hard not to appreciate that it’s caught and sold right away.”

 

_58A9898 Balboa Ferry
Balboa Island Ferry

On the Water

When looking to clear his mind after a stressful day, Mead heads to the BALBOA ISLAND FERRY for time on the water. “I like to take a ride to decompress,” he says. “Only time for once over and back and then a meal at the Royal Hen—[owner] Cynthia [Shafer] is a good friend.”

 

Back Bay (shutterstock)-credit SunflowerMomma/Shutterstock.com
Newport’s Back Bay | Photo by SunflowerMomma/Shutterstock.com

A Scenic Ride

In his occasional spare time, Mead also enjoys touring the BACK BAY by bike. “The Back Bay is so pretty and basically flat, so it is a fun ride—not much traffic,” he says.

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