An Interview with Mark Peel
Hailed as one of the founders of California cuisine, renowned Los Angeles Chef Mark Peel has left his indelible mark on many beloved culinary hot spots, such as Ma Maison, Michael’s, Chez Panisse, Spago, Chinois. He also co-founded La Brea Bakery, and his award-winning restaurant, Campanile, served as a staple Los Angeles culinary destination for over two decades. He’s currently employing his esteemed gastronomic skills at his latest seafood concept, Prawn Coastal Casual, located in the One Colorado courtyard. Prawn offers a modern and accessible menu of seafood options in a welcoming, fast-casual restaurant environment.
It was a delight to sit down with Mark and get his thoughts on the current culinary landscape. As luck would have it, he was in the middle of taste testing a new tartar sauce, so we joined him over some buttery fish and chips.
Q: Most overrated food ingredient?
A: Beef! Give it a rest! I sort of feel the same way about chicken, but at least it’s more versatile. But a 24-ounce steak – that’s too much! That’s enough protein for three days! I think people are afraid of pork, of its being undercooked. That’s so rarely the case though. It’s safe and there’s no reason to avoid it.
Q: Most underrated ingredient?
Squid! People don’t know what to do with it, and it looks weird with all the tentacles. But it has zero fat, no cholesterol, it’s clean and a great source of protein. Plus, it’s delicious, inexpensive, universally available and very versatile. I love fried calamari.
Q: Best restaurant trend?
A: Not to sound, well, self-serving, but fast-casual. Or as my friend Danny Meyer calls it, “Fine Casual.” Fast-casual offers good ingredients presented with skill, intelligence and creativity. And the food remains accessible and affordable. Prawn’s ethos is to ensure that food dishes are prepared and served in a way that people don’t feel cheated; that four ounces of protein is enough and more than satisfying. Adequate nutrition and nothing excessive. It’s fish and vegetables presented in a way that is visually exciting as well. Aesthetics matter, on par with taste; you also ‘eat with your eyes.’
Q: Do you cook at home?
Yes, I do, but not as often as I’d like. I tend to get home late and the kids need to be fed early. I am a late-night person and the kids are usually already in bed. And they are picky about what they eat. They’re not terribly adventurous.
Q: What do you like to cook when you do cook at home?
A: It’s unplanned. I look at what I have in the fridge and go from there. I like to grill fish.
Q: What’s the one ingredient you can’t live without?
A: Onions! ‘Onions’ is even in my email address. I use them in everything. I even make onion jam and use it as a dessert topping. They are low fat, have natural sugars and a great sharpness and acidity. I buy 25-pound bags at a time.
Q: Which onions do you prefer?
A: Yellow or white. They are more flexible. Purple onions are too directional.
Q: What do you always have in your fridge?
A: Butter! I buy it 30 pounds at a time and freeze it.
Q: Salted or unsalted?
A: Unsalted. Again, more flexible.
Q: What inspired you to bring Prawn to Pasadena?
A: I was born in Pasadena. I love the city. Pasadena’s great, great energy, with an intelligent and interesting population. Pasadena also likes interesting food. It was a good opportunity to come to One Colorado, close to the main Colorado Boulevard. Plus, the San Gabriel Valley loves seafood, so it was a natural fit.