Orange County’s next brewery tasting room launch is on the corner of a busy intersection in Tustin. TAPS Fish House & Brewery originates in Brea and has locations in Corona and Irvine, plus sister restaurant The Catch in Anaheim. However, the Tustin menu is different from any of their existing ones, and will be served on their very own food truck. Chef Roman Jimenez was happy to elaborate on the unique situation.
When we first met, you were the executive chef of a brick-and-mortar in Brea. Now, you are transitioning to a food truck. This is this opposite direction of most chefs. How did you get to this point?
I’ve worked with the Manzella Restaurant Group off and on for about four years, so when they approached me with this project, it was intriguing. I’ve been fortunate enough to work in different restaurants here and in Chicago that were highly creative. This is an opportunity to deliver something outside the box, but in an impulsive, innovative way that isn’t so serious.
Being raised as an Anaheim local, are there any neighborhood influences that we’ll find on the menu?
Definitely. Street soul food. Latin-American fusion; I grew up eating Mexican and American food, as well as American-Chinese. You’re going to find out-of-this-world tacos that will change every month. The masa fries are going to be a hit, I think.
Tell me about your son, Lil’ Roman. Some parents don’t want their kids to follow in their footsteps for a career path. Was that ever the case for you? Will we see him on the truck some time?
I’d like my son to choose his own career path, but he started helping in my kitchens when he was in high school. This year he attended Fullerton College and worked nights at The Catch. If he can work hard, have fun and be creative in whatever he does, I’d be happy. I’m sure he’ll put some time in on the TAPS food truck. He’s still figuring it out at 18.
We learned about your collection of kicks. What is your shoe of choice when at work? Or will it be a rotating fashion show? Do you plan to model your #KOTD (Kicks of the Day) on Instagram?
Good idea to include photos of our kicks on Instagram. I am currently into Adidas UltraBoost sneakers. Most comfortable shoe ever. Right now, ACE Shoe Repair on State College in Anaheim is putting custom non-skid soles on some pairs for me. Lil’ Roman and I also favor Jordans 3 and 11, the zebra print.
Speaking of social media, care to explain the meaning of your Instagram handle, passion_fruitpapi?
It’s a play on the rapper, champagnepapi. Love his music– hardest working guy; he’s creative and inspired. It’s draining to do that on a daily basis, to push yourself. My handle ties into the passion I have for what I do.
I prefer to listen to music while working. I assume you’ll have some tunes on the truck. What does your playlist look like?
It’s going to be classic rock– a favorite of our culinary director, Tom Hope, and mine as well. Trucker road trip music; from Low Rider by War to Slow Ride by Foghat; Take It Easy by The Eagles. We’ve got our own sound system in the truck. It will be insane; grungy. And for contemporary, Drake.
You’ve worked under some prominent chefs (Charlie Trotter, Rick Bayless and Art Smith). What skills/belief that they passed along to you?
Learned a lot– hire the right people and get them motivated, which keeps you motivated. Art Smith is the hardest working, funniest guy. His signature dish is fried chicken; I learned and cooked it on a daily basis, but I ended up tweaking his method to give it more depth for my palate.
What are a few of your Anaheim (or OC general) dining and drinking recommendations?
The Juke Joint on Anaheim Blvd. Dive bar open 6 a.m.- 2 p.m. I keep it simple; shot of Jameson and a beer.
The Packing House lately. Urbana is bomb. The Kroft . . . .great poutines/grilled cheese.
Baja Fish Tacos on Nutwood by Cal State Fullerton. Great ceviche mixto.
I caught a glimpse of the menu, and noticed halloumi as an ingredient in your salad. Personally, I love halloumi, but rarely see it on OC menus. What made you choose to go with this type of cheese for your dish?
We sometimes go to L.A. to buy kicks– I’ve seen halloumi there on salads. It’s not the same old tired ingredients. And when you grill it, it gives a whole new depth of flavor– nutty.
Tell me more about your Royal with Cheese. Why smash your patty? What’s ‘Merica coalition? How do you make sriracha pickles? What’s in the truck sauce? And who the heck is Martin?
I smash the patty here because it has a better texture and makes for a perfect sear. Also, it’s tender.
‘Merica coalition– the condiments from the burger are chopped up and reinvented (chopped onion, pickle, American cheese and truck sauce all griddled together). It’s like a flavor lava: chile con queso meets Animal Style.
Truck sauce: mayo, ketchup, housemade mustard.
Martin is the brand of bun; it makes the perfect burger bun. It’s like a pillow potato bun; holds ingredients perfectly.
Sriracha pickles: First we make our own pickles, then we ferment them in garlic and red chile– sort of a kimchi pickle.
Regarding the food truck, is it totally tricked out? Did you have a lot of say in the layout? Have you practiced driving it, or will it be primarily parked in front of the tasting room? Can folks hire the truck for private events?
Yes, fortunately I had a lot of say on the kitchen outlet with Tom Hope. Super-tricked out; great wrap– top-of-the-line equipment. Wolf professional stuff. I work the line and wanted it versatile. It will allow us to deliver creative food.
Yes– I’ve driven it. Drove trucks for my dad when I was a teenager for his business.
I am not certain. The truck could be available for breakfast and early lunches for private events, since we don’t open until 3 p.m.
TAPS Brewery & Barrel Room will be at 15501 Red Hill Ave., Tustin; www.tapsbrewery.com.
A contributing writer for OC Weekly, Anne Marie freelances for multiple online and print publications, and guest judges for culinary competitions. A Bay Area transplant, she graduated with a degree in Hospitality Management from Cal Poly Pomona. Find her on Instagram as brekkiefan.