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Lodi’s taste: Learn about three local chefs

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Posted: Tuesday, May 21, 2013 1:00 pm

Whether it’s coming up with a new creation for a food truck, adding a Mexican flair or adding a twist to comfort foods, culinary talents abound in Lodi. Some area chefs are self-taught, while others have learned on the job.

Three local chefs recently talked about their love of food and their desire to share their talents with others. Here is what they had to say.

Doug Seed

Restaurant: A Moveable Feast, corner of Lodi Ave. and Sacramento St., Lodi. 333-3111

Years as a chef: Professionally for four years.

Cooking background: I’m self-taught. I began cooking for large groups of people for 30 years. It’s something that just started as a hobby that I really learned that I like to do. Four years ago, some of our neighbors asked if we could start cooking for them. We did home delivery and then started catering parties. That led to the food truck that we have been doing for the last year and a half.

What is your favorite dish at the restaurant?

I think my favorite is the Cajun shrimp sandwich. It’s from New Orleans. There’s an interesting story behind it.

More than 30 years ago, a friend invited my wife and I over and served shrimp. It was spicy. He had gone into the kitchen at the restaurant and asked for the recipe. The chef at the restaurant said they don’t give out recipes, but he paid the guy for it.

It turns out the recipe is four ingredients. It’s really simple. It’s about the best shrimp I’ve ever had.

Which is the most fun to cook and why?

My sons really like it when we do specials. They have invented some sandwiches that are a combination of things we do regularly. Sam has a sandwich he calls “Sam’s super spicy sandwich.” It’s just terrific, but it has all different kinds of things together. They have fun putting things together and coming up with new things. We do specials every week and that keeps it exciting.

What menu item seems to be the most popular and why?

I think our chicken Caesar sandwich is very popular. I think part of it is because people are trying to eat healthier, and it’s really like a chicken Caesar salad in a sandwich. We have started doing our own hamburger, where we grind our own meat and I make my own pickles. That’s really popular as well.

Why do you love working with food?

I really started it 30-plus years ago as a means of giving to people, and I really enjoy that because it’s a way you can bless people and make them happy. When it’s done right, it can really facilitate a sharing and communion that is really terrific.

I love how food really brings people together. There’s a satisfaction as a cook when people say, “This is yummy.” It’s kind of the reward for what is often hard labor.

What local or regional ingredient do you like the most?

There are so many, and I think that the Central Valley of California is like the breadbasket of the world.

I think at the top of the list of what is great locally is the wine. Lodi has become such a great wine destination that it’s really, really terrific to be able to cook with local wines and then pair the foods with them.

Robert Craggs

Restaurant: Habañero Hots, 1024 E. Victor Rd., Lodi. 369-8231

Years as a chef: 17 to 19.

Cooking background: This is where I learned to cook. I came here when I was still in high school. Also, my hobby is cooking. I do a lot of barbecuing and I like to make pizza. I’ve also done cooking competitions.

What is your favorite dish at the restaurant?

I think my favorite dish has got to be the fajitas. They are so versatile. There are so many different kinds you can make.

Which is the most fun to cook and why?

I think the camarones ranchero is the most fun to cook because you get to sauté the vegetables and cook with shrimp. When you add wine to the onions it makes a little fire. It’s kind of fun to do.

Which menu item seems to be the most popular and why?

I think our combination plates are the most popular, probably the No. 5. You get an enchilada, a taco and chili colorado. Also, our grande burrito. We make a lot of those.

Why do you love working with food?

I love food, all kinds of food. I especially love the food here. The quality of ingredients you get is the best. We get fresh local products delivered all week long. I think I like cooking food because I like to be creative.

What local or regional ingredient do you like the most?

I like working with a lot of onions and tomatoes. Our habañeros are grown locally. You’ve got to wear gloves, though.

What is the best cooking advice you have ever received?

You have to make sure it’s delicious, or don’t serve it. We have a saying that the customer’s liking is the No. 1 most important thing. If the food isn’t delicious and perfect, I don’t even serve it. I think sometimes it’s like a cooking competition that you have to win every moment of the day.

Kirk Smith

Restaurant: Velvet Grill and Creamery, 1421 S. Ham Ln., Lodi. 369-8231.

Years as chef: Over 30 years; has owned Velvet Grill since 1990.

Cooking background: I’ve worked in several types of restaurants since I was 16 and I learned from different individuals that gave me a pretty good rounded palate.

More important than that, I’ve been married for 28 years. We both love to cook. Over the years, we’ve developed strategies that we learned because we like food. After so many years, it’s easy to go and create other things because we like how foods work together.

What is your favorite dish?

We serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, so it’s hard to narrow it down. I guess my favorite dish is every dish that makes someone happy when eating it. That would be my favorite dish at the moment. We try to put a different twist on some of the comfort foods that restaurants have.

Which is the most fun to cook and why?

I really like cooking breakfast. It’s the start of the day and it’s the first meal for people. I really like making omelets. They are pretty and full of fresh ingredients. It’s a pretty balanced meal. It has protein and vegetables.

Which menu item seems to be the most popular and why?

It depends on what time of day it is. For breakfast, our French toast is the most popular. It’s really different than anywhere else. It’s on thick baked bread with malted powdered sugar. It’s the most popular besides the omelets. At night, it’s our fish and chips. We have our own special beer batter and it’s fresh and people love it. I also developed a fish and chips sandwich. The chip part is a beer batter pickle spear.

Why do you love to work with food?

I guess that it’s a passion. I love to eat food. I love the layers of flavor you get with food when you work with it. You’re injecting your flair and sharing it with other people. It’s like having someone over at your house and cooking for them. You can positively affect a lot of people.

What local or regional ingredient do you like working with the most?

Since we make our own ice cream, we use a lot of local dairy products like cream. Also, the seasonal (produce) like berries and peaches. We use a lot of nuts. Whatever is in season, that’s what I like, because it’s fresh. I try to use what’s in season to the fullest.

What is the best cooking advice you have ever received?

Never cut corners. If it’s not perfect, do it over.

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