Sarah Daniels describes what it takes to become executive chef at Irvine Spectrum Center’s Del Frisco’s Grille, which features creative twists on American comfort classics — and her favorite meal there.
First job as a cook?
Dave’s Cosmic Subs in Hudson, Ohio. I learned that cooking is fun and work can be enjoyable. I couldn’t believe someone was paying me to listen to classic rock and make sandwiches all day. I’m still obsessed with sandwiches, and classic rock, to this day.
Why did you become a chef?
Because I was a solid cook that could and did take it to the next level! In a kitchen you’re only as good as your ability to teach your skills to someone else. I get most of my personal satisfaction from seeing those I’ve coached excel and move upward.
Hardest part about being executive chef?
The crushing responsibility! If we do a good job it’s because everyone put in hard work and had a great shift. If we fail, even if it was “someone else’s fault,” it’s because I failed to teach that person how to prevent it or didn’t set them up for success. There are so many moving parts it’s hard for even the best chefs to keep track of it all.
Hardest part about being a female executive chef?
To me it was never about gender but about age. The real challenge for me is managing people 20 years my senior. It’s all about respect. I respect the work my cooks do and work hard to earn their respect.
If not a chef, what would you be?
Dancer. I love dancing, I think it would be so cool to get real training and do it as a living.
Favorite Food Network show and why?
To tell you the truth, I don’t really watch the Food Network. Think about it… do you go home and watch shows about your job?
Advice for home chefs?
Stop freaking out that you’re not following the recipe exactly. Learn the basic skills of sautéing and roasting. Use recipes merely as a guide. It’s way more fun and you’ll actually use everything in your fridge. I guarantee you whoever made that recipe wasn’t measuring anything the first time they made it. General rule: the bigger the food, the lower and slower you need to cook it. You control the heat. Also, don’t forget to season your food with salt. The biggest difference between home food and restaurant food is proper seasoning. I believe in you!
Most popular order at Del Frisco’s Grille?
Our Grille Prime Cheeseburger is by far our most popular menu item. Two prime patties, gooey cheese, our house-made sloppy sauce that’s outta this world, crispy lettuce, tomato, red onion and sweet pickles on a toasted buttery brioche bun.
My personal favorite is the Grille’s Lamb Burger with housemade tzatziki sauce — a ton of flavor and a really unique sandwich.