You may have seen Chef Paul Cao (and his famous Spaghetti Grilled Cheese) on TV. Cao, the owner of Burnt Crumbs at Los Olivos Marketplace, has appeared on Food Network’s “Chopped,” Cooking Channel’s “Eat St.” and “Junk Food Flip,” and Travel Channel’s “Man v. Food.” We asked the UCLA graduate why he became a chef in Irvine.
What do you consider your greatest strengths as a chef?
I’m fastidious about details, maybe a little too much. I’m a problem-solver by nature and can get obsessed with finding solutions. That comes in handy working in a fast-paced environment like a restaurant, where challenges arise daily, especially the last few years.
Why do you think your Spaghetti Grilled Cheese became, and remains, such a big hit?
Both spaghetti and grilled cheese separately are classic American comfort foods, and I think it’s a double whammy of nostalgic flavors that have universal appeal. It’s also something I came up with in college to feed my roommates on a budget. I never thought it would lead to a restaurant and become a popular signature item on our menu more than a decade later.
Why did you open your restaurant in Irvine?
I grew up in Irvine and went to Irvine High (class of 1997) and still live here. It’s no secret that Irvine is a great place to raise kids, and we love it here. The rest of my family also lives nearby – and family is every-thing to me. One reason we opened a restaurant here in Irvine was to be able to feed and see our friends and family more often, given the time constraints of running a restaurant. Plus, it’s pretty cool to see everything come full circle.
How would you sum up your many TV appearances?
It’s been an incredible ride, and I still can’t believe we’ve been featured on all those Food Network shows and that I won ‘Chopped.’ It still feels surreal, but it’s a source of pride, for sure, especially now that I’m a father of two boys. It’s definitely not something I ever strived to do, but I felt it was important to step outside of my comfort zone to do things that challenged me as a chef and as a person. It’s all about growth.