These five Highlanders made successful careers out of their love for food and merry-making. Here’s how UCR helped them get started.
From Biochemistry to Chef Artistry Robert Del Grande
When you ask world-renowned chef Robert Del Grande, Ph.D. ’81, when he decided to pursue the culinary arts, he jokes, “I didn’t decide. I never decided — I still haven’t!”
Owner of the revered RDG + Bar Annie in Houston, Texas, Del Grande, 60, is now known for carving the path for modern Southwestern cuisine at a time when French and Italian reigned supreme. You could say that Del Grande helped American cuisine gain its strong foothold in the culinary world.
Del Grande started as a science geek; he received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from UCR in 1981. “I lived in a house with two other guys who really loved to eat but didn’t know how to cook. I [learned to cook] as a kid, and that started it all,” he explains. “There was this rumor going around: ‘Those are the guys who live in that chateau on the other side of the citrus fields. They always have some kind of big dinner going on over there.’”
Del Grande would visit the campus bookstore for cookbooks to look for new recipes, adding to his arsenal of tried and trues from his mother. There was the roasted chicken nestled in perfectly caramelized onions and potatoes, and a traditional ham dinner whose leftovers were transformed into several other recipes that would last throughout the week.
When I was at UCR, I was reading Julia Childs books, thinking this is great. And then I became friends with her!
Robert Del Grande
Del Grande had planned on a post-doctorate after UCR, but spent his transitional three-month break in Houston, Texas with his then-girlfriend (now wife), working at her brother-in-law’s restaurant. He never left. And just like that, Del Grande says, “Three months turned into 30 years.” The restaurant — the legendary Café Annie — evolved into RDG + Bar Annie five years ago.
“When I was at UCR, I was reading Julia Childs books, thinking this is great,’” he says, chuckling. “And then I became friends with her! It was totally bizarre.”
These days, Del Grande also has his sights on a new venture: ROXOR, the first-ever gin with Texas origins. Del Grande created ROXOR from lab equipment purchased online (“You’re right back there in the lab, aren’t you?” his wife said) and inspiration from a profile on Tracy Kahn, the curator of UCR’s Citrus Variety Collection and the origins of the mandarin orange.
“Citrus and distilled spirits,” Del Grande sums up, “brought me back to UCR.” —V.C.
Gulf Shrimp with Avocado & Serrano Chile Mayonnaise
Gulf Shrimp: Serves 4 to 6 people
- 1 lb. jumbo shrimp: approximately 20 shrimp
- 4 Tbsp. butter
- 2 each garlic cloves: finely minced
- 1 tsp. fresh lime juice
- ¼ tsp. salt
Avocado & Serrano Chile Mayonnaise:
- 4 each garlic clove
- ¼ cup mayonnaise
- 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp. lime juice
- 1 each ripe Haas Avocado
- 1 Tbsp. Serrano chile: stem & seeds removed: minced
- 2 Tbsp. cilantro: minced
- Pinch salt
- Pinch black pepper
- Cilantro sprigs for garnish
Prepare the Shrimp:
Peel the shrimp leaving the tails intact. With a paring knife, butterfly the shrimp down the back. Remove the vein. Press gently to flatten.
In a small pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the garlic and briefly sauté. Remove from heat & add the lime juice & salt.
Arrange the shrimp to lay flat on a sheet pan. Brush the shrimp with the garlic butter. Place under a hot broiler for approximately 5 minutes or until the shrimp are just cooked through. Allow the shrimp to cool for a few minutes.
Arrange the shrimp on a serving platter. Spoon a little Avocado & Serrano Chile Mayonnaise on to each shrimp. Garnish with a cilantro sprigs. Serve warm or even at room temperature. Alternatively, the Avocado Mayonnaise can be served on the side.
Avocado & Roasted Chile Mayonnaise:
Put the garlic cloves in a small pot and cover with ample water. Bring the water to a boil, then simmer the garlic cloves until they are soft enough to mash – about 20 to 30 minutes depending on the size. Drain off the water. Place the poached garlic cloves on a cutting board and mash with the blade of a chef knife.
In a mixing bowl, combine the mashed garlic, mayonnaise, olive oil, lime juice and mix vigorously until smooth.
Peel & seed the avocado. On a cutting board with a chef knife, mash the avocado (or very finely dice). Transfer the avocado to the mixing bowl and blend well with the mayonnaise. Add the minced Serrano chile & the minced cilantro. Salt & pepper to taste. Chill until ready to serve.
Note: Chilled poached shrimp can be used in place of the broiled shrimp.
Brewing Up Excellence Mike Perry
Chat with Mike Perry ’96 and you’ll gain a new appreciation for coffee — including the science, art and passion that go into making the best cup.
As founder and CEO of Klatch Coffee, Inc., Perry spends a third of the year traveling to places like Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Brazil to select the best beans. He then roasts them to perfection using the “peak of flavor” style he developed shortly after graduating from UC Riverside.
It’s a life the Harley riding, sandal-clad CEO never would have imagined two decades ago.
He and his wife, Cindy, opened their first coffeehouse in 1993 as a way to keep financially afloat while Perry pursued his degree in biochemical engineering. Perry enjoyed the work so much, however, that after graduation he decided to stay in the business.
“I loved the interaction with the people and I loved the product,” he says.
Yet he felt the product could be improved. So when a friend gave him access to a roasting machine, Perry applied his engineering skills in search of a better coffee. First he adjusted the device’s temperature probe so it would function like a meat thermometer, allowing him to gauge bean temperature. Next he experimented with airflow, flame and other variables of the roasting process.
“I would take different paths, recording everything I did from the start to the finish. I soon realized I could develop a roast much the way a chef could manipulate meat or a sauce to get a different taste.”
Engineering is really about being creative.
With his technique perfected, Perry set out to find better beans. He secured his first batch from a farm in Nicaragua and was so impressed with the quality that he reached out to farmers in other countries. Buying direct from the farms gave Klatch great coffee at good prices while still paying farmers a better rate. Klatch now works with thousands of farmers, many of whom Perry personally visits each year.
The resulting coffees have garnered Klatch several awards, including Best Coffeehouse in America, Micro Roaster of the Year and World’s Best Espresso.
“Engineering is really about being creative,” Perry says. “UCR challenges students to take stuff to the next level and, for me, that fulfilled itself in coffee.”
Klatch’s custom blends are distributed to coffeehouses, restaurants and hotels nationwide. The brews are also available at Klatch coffeehouses in Rancho Cucamonga, San Dimas, Ontario, LAX and Korea. —K.W.
Hot Buttered Rum Coffee Cocktail
- 12-oz. bag of Klatch Fireside Blend
- 1 stick of soften butter
- 2 cups brown sugar
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 cup ice cream
- 1 oz. of rum
- 1 cinnamon stick
- whipped cream (to finish)
Begin by making a butter mixture by combining softened butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and ice cream. Once mixture is combined put into the freezer to harden. In the mean time brew some delicious Klatch Rwanda Rushashi using your favorite method. We really like a French Press for this drink because the heartiness the press adds helps the coffee to stand up to other flavors in the drink.
To prepare the drink begin with an 8–10 oz. mug. Place a ¼ cup of the butter mixture at the bottom of the cup. Add 1 oz. of your favorite rum. I used a spiced rum as it works well with other flavors in the cup. Fill the cup with coffee leaving a little room at the top for whipped cream. Combine all the flavors using cinnamon stick to stir, top with your favorite whipped cream, and enjoy.
Organically Fused with Flavor Litty Mathew
Like all good things, Greenbar Distillery started out as a hobby. Melkon Khosrovian infused liquor for his wife, Litty Mathew ’91, so she could learn to enjoy the Russian brandies and vodkas his family loved so much. He took cues from Litty, who would often shop at farmer’s markets for fresh ingredients, and incorporated all-natural complexities into liquors.
“He would get a fruit or vegetable and back it up with a fresh herb of some sort and then a dry spice — a variety. He came up with some beautiful combinations,” Mathew, 44, says.
Khosrovian would affix beautiful handmade labels on these bottles and gift them to friends and family, who began spreading the word about these wonderfully fragrant bottles of liquor.
“It turns out I wasn’t the only fan,” Mathew explains. “Pretty soon people were calling us for these little treats. So we thought, we better get the phone number unlisted or go into business! That was 10 years ago.”
Greenbar Distillery was founded by Mathew and Khosrovian in Monrovia, California, but the couple opened the doors to a new location in Downtown Los Angeles in 2012 — the first distillery in the city since Prohibition. Greenbar is known for its all organic ingredients, a decision made by Mathew and Khosrovian because they found that organic produce simply tastes better: “It’s really about putting flavor in the bottle,” Mathew says.
It’s really about putting flavor in the bottle.
Mathew was an economics and political science double-major at UC Riverside; she says Tracy Kahn, UC Riverside Citrus Variety Collection curator, helped introduce some amazing citrus to the Greenbar ingredients list.
But she credits the year she spent studying in France as an undergrad for changing her life. “The ingredients were so good, the farmer’s markets were fabulous, and Lyon was the center of all this great food. Then I brought it together for my everyday life and then into a career finally,” Mathew says. (She also went onto earn her master’s in journalism at USC — where she met Khosrovian on the first day of class! — and attended culinary school in Lyon, France.)
Greenbar Distillery products are sold throughout America and even overseas. You can find the couple giving walking tours three nights a week at their 14,500 sq ft distillery, showing visitors how Greenbar does what they do.
“I really enjoy the tours because it’s so fun to see that flavor makes a difference. People will try something and be like, ‘Wow, that’s what it tastes like!’” Mathew shares. “It’s fun to see people say, ‘Wow, this tastes like real food.’ And that makes me happy.” —V.C.
The Griffith, made with Greenbar Distillery’s Tru Garden organic vodka and Grand Poppy liqueur, won the The California Artisanal Distillers Guild contest for L.A.’s signature cocktail. Created by Culver City resident Josh Lurie, the drink is named after the large park in Los Angeles, and is a mix of organic ingredients distilled and grown in L.A. County.
- 1 oz. TRU Garden vodka
- 1 oz. Grand Poppy organic bitter liqueur (made with California poppies)
- 1 oz. freshly squeezed local lemons
- 1 oz. simple syrup (half sugar, half water)
- 2–3 slices fresh local cucumbers
Muddle cucumbers, add rest and shake with ice. Strain into martini glass and garnish with a cucumber ribbon.
A Journey through Food Dee Nguyen
When chef/owner Dee Nguyen ’97 first opened Break of Dawn in 2006, it was a hit. Devoted crowds flocked to the restaurant for Nguyen’s dishes: Asian-influence California cuisine with house-cured pork belly, nestled between delicate tempura eggs, napa slaw and kimchi-spiced crema, while Hawaiian sausage is served alongside green papaya, hijiki, scallions, and fried eggs. Break of Dawn’s eclectic menu is filled with all sorts of ingredients most people would have to Google first, but it keeps guests’ curiosity — and hunger — fueled.
Nguyen, 40, explains that he took up cooking as a necessity while in junior high. His family had just emigrated from Vietnam and his parents were occupied with work, so he learned to create food for himself: fried eggs, Chinese sausage, fried chicken wings, rice, that sort of thing.
Nguyen attended UCR as a biology major with a minor in psychology. But just as he’s carved out his own style as a chef, Nguyen has carved out his life the way he wants to live it. While his mom urged him to go onto dentistry school, Nguyen had other ideas.
Do what you love and keep your family close.
UC Riverside, Nguyen says, is where the cooking and partying all started. Nguyen lived in a Moreno Valley house with five roommates and five dogs. Nguyen, of course, cooked for them all.
“I made a lot of really good food; they were all my guinea pigs and it turned out pretty good,” Nguyen explains.
Nguyen decided to head to San Francisco for culinary school. After landing on the culinary fast track that led to an executive sous chef position at the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, Nguyen decided to pursue his own dream of opening a restaurant.
While the crowds are hearty and the waitlist is long, Break of Dawn still until this day does not offer a dinner service. In fact, Break of Dawn is open for business five days a week for brunch, a very conscious decision made by Nguyen early on, who wanted more than anything to help raise his disabled son Berlin, now 13.
“Do what you love and keep your family close,” Break of Dawn’s website boasts.
As for the restaurant’s memorable name, Nguyen explains that the story behind it is two-fold: Sure, it’s a breakfast place, but it also signifies a new beginning to a new journey. —V.C.
Braised Eggs in Winter Vegetable Stew
Ingredients: Serves 2 to 4 people
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 fennel bulb, diced
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- ½ yellow onion, diced
- 1 to 2 large tomatoes, diced
- 1 cup potato, diced
- 1 teaspoon ginger, chopped
- 1 teaspoon garlic, chopped
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon fish sauce
- water or chicken stock
- salt and pepper, to taste
- ½ cup tofu, diced
- ¼ cup edamame beans
- ¼ cup parsnip (carrot optional), diced
- 1 sprig Thai basil, chopped
- 4 eggs
- ½ cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
Heat vegetable oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Sauté fennel and seeds, onion, tomato, parsnip and potato for 5 minutes. Add ginger, garlic, sugar and fish sauce, and continue cooking for three minutes.
Add enough water or chicken stock to cover the ingredients. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper as needed. Remove from heat to cool, then place in refrigerator overnight.
When you are ready to serve, reheat vegetable stew over medium heat. Add tofu, edamame and crack each egg, sunny-side up, over the mixture. Top stew with mozzarella cheese and simmer, covered, for about 5 minutes, or until eggs are cooked to desired doneness.
Serve with toasted French baguette slices or over rice.
Crafting a More Creative Beer Ryan Wicks
Wicks Brewing Co. is not your average son-and-pop shop.
In fact, the brewpub founded by Ryan Wicks and his father, Brad, is quite possibly the only one of its kind, incorporating a restaurant, tap room and brew-on-premises system that allows customers to create their own craft beer.
“We wanted to make our place a destination that puts Riverside on the map in the craft beer world,” says Wicks, who studied at UCR. “Most microbreweries have a small tasting room with space for about 20 people. Here it’s a full venue with room for 230, plus we have live music and standup comedy.”
The unique business has attracted attention from several television networks, including The Food Network, which featured the brewpub in an episode of “Boss Under Fire.”
He and his dad launched the business in 2013 with the intent of sharing their love of craft beer with fellow enthusiasts. The restaurant was an afterthought, originally planned to give people someplace to eat while they waited the three hours for their custom brews to finish. But people soon flocked there for meals, enjoying a few beers while dining.
We wanted to honor Riverside’s citrus heritage and thought it would be cool to bring out a beer that tapped into UCR’s citrus program.
The tap list includes popular labels along with a few Wicks’ custom beers bearing names such as Black Night, Die Krausen and The Farmer’s Toil, a citrus wheat created using fruit from UCR’s Citrus Variety Collection.
“We wanted to honor Riverside’s citrus heritage and thought it would be cool to bring out a beer that tapped into UCR’s citrus program,” says Wicks. “We usually pick two to three citrus varieties — sometimes a sweet orange, other times its grapefruit or lemon — and no two batches are the same. We cube up the whole fruit, put it in a cheesecloth bag and boil it with our beer.”
Wicks’ brew-on-premises system features six kettles that customers can rent to brew their own recipes, often with creative input from Wicks brewing staff. More than a hundred custom blends have been created with the system since the brewpub opened.
Some of the more interesting creations include a Macadamia Nut Brown that used nuts from a customer’s tree, a Citrus Saison that combined citrus fruit with rose hips, and two beers brewed in memory of fallen officers. Sheepdog, an American red ale, honors San Bernardino County sheriff’s detective Jeremiah MacKay and Freight Crain, a chocolate malt stout, honors Riverside police officer Michael Crain. Both men died in the February 2013 pursuit of homicide suspect Christopher Dorner. —K.W.
Black Knight BBQ Sauce
The key to a beer-based barbecue sauce is to avoid anything bitter, which means most stouts are out of the question. I prefer our Black Knight Imperial Porter as it contributes the desired chocolate-roasted malt flavor, but without any lingering burnt or bitter characteristics. Our Bard’s Song Pecan Brown Ale works well also. When I make this at home I like to try variations of this sauce using different fruits, peppers or spices. During the final simmer add fruit juices like pineapple or guava, or try peppers like chipotle habanero and jalapeño, or even a little cayenne powder to really spice things up! Be creative!
Ingredients: Makes approximately 24 oz.
- 8 oz. Wicks Brewing Black Knight Imperial Porter
- 1 small red onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 oz. bacon grease
Combine the Following in a Bowl:
- 1½ cups ketchup
- 2 oz. Worcestershire sauce
- 3 oz. molasses
- 2 oz. dark brown sugar
- ½–1 cup cider vinegar (can be adjusted to taste)
- 3 tsp. dijon mustard
- 1–4 Tbsp. chili powder (adjust according to the desired spiciness of the sauce)
- 1 Tbsp. freshly ground black pepper
Add chopped onion to bacon grease and increase heat to medium. Cook until softened, about 4 to 5 minutes.
Add garlic and cook additional 30 seconds.
Pour in beer; stir and leave to simmer for 3 to 4 minutes.
Add ketchup, Worcestershire, molasses, brown sugar, vinegar, mustard, chili powder, and black pepper.
Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and stir occasionally until slightly thickened, about 20 minutes.
Place in a blender and obliterate on high until smooth. Allow to cool to room temperature, transfer to a jar or airtight container, and store in refrigerator until needed, or up to one month.
Note: This is not a grilling sauce as the high sugar content will cause caramelization to occur much too quickly over an open flame. Instead, slather it on your choice of meat during the last few minutes on the grill to add flavor or serve on the side.
Good Food font by Karen Cantú.