Top Chef Insights

Ever wondered whether a Master Chef's guilty pleasure is simply peanut butter or mac 'n cheese? Want to find out what the latest menu trends will be for the coming season? Always wondered who inspires some of the leading chefs in the industry? We've asked these questions and have the answers for you here.

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August's Featured Chef: Chef Cal DeMercurio, Corporate Executive Chef, Black Bear Diner

Black Bear Diner was one of the teams competing in this year's Culinary Clash: Battle Anaheim at the Western Foodservice & Hospitality Expo, benefitting the California Restaurant Association Educational Foundation.

What made you want to become a chef?

I come from  a family of hunters, so you either kill things or cook them. I was the worst shot.

What is the newest food trend you see emerging? 
Technology is changing things so fast it’s really hard to say, but a lot of people are testing/looking into table tablets for guests ordering, I think its disappointing though for two reasons. Firstly, eating out is and has always been about a communal time with family and friends and the interacting with great servers and service may end up being a causality of technology advances. On the food side Gluten is big, but I feel non-processed foods is where it’s going to end up.

What new ingredient have you incorporated into your menu?
Mostly attempting to work in unique types of center of the plate items that fall into a better price point, both for the franchisees and the guest. Lighter fare mostly for summer, but Black Bear Diner as a whole is not a place people go to cut back, but to indulge, so I get a little bit of a pass on that one.

If you went to culinary school...was your favorite class in culinary school and why?  
My training was on the job, beginning with an American Culinary Federation apprenticeship back in the 70’s. As far as my favorite thing to do in the kitchen, experimenting with the way different flavor profiles blend (or don’t blend) together. I’m a real fan of food and wine marriages.

If you could eat anywhere in the world, besides your own restaurant, where would that be? 
Thomas does such a great job, and I’ve been blessed to have eaten at the French Laundry several times in the past. But that experience would only be rivaled if Chef Trotter was still with us. He was an amazing culinary genius who possessed an understanding of flavor that very few have ever had or will have.

Is there one comfort food that you're secretly obsessed with having at home?
Potato Chips in a multitude of flavors.

Which talent would you most like to have that you don't possess?
I’m a hot food chef and even though I’ve done a lot of pastry, I wish I was patient enough to excel in the finer art of the patisser.

What’s your favorite meal to cook for friends?
My Grandpa and Dad’s Garbage Barrel Chicken, it’s the best.

Who was your mentor as you were becoming a chef?
Executive Chef George Goodrich was my mentor early on and as far as Culinary Competitions I would have to thank Chef Brad Toles.

More about Chef DeMercurio: 

Chef Cal DeMercurio’s passion is to bless others by using his culinary gifts and wisdom, gained from over 30 years’ experience in professional kitchens around the world. He began his passionate pursuit of food at the age of 17 when he entered the back door of a local restaurant (The original Maxwell’s with Chef Bruce Brown) and offered to wash dishes for free just so he could watch the chef work. His unwavering commitment to excellence in food preparation has always been a goal that he hopes to share with co-workers and customers alike.
Chef Cal is a Certified Executive Chef with the American Culinary Federation and past President of the local Northern California Chef’s Association. He often blends his traditional French cooking and Italian heritage with many of his offerings. Chef Cal has taught his craft for over 20 years serving as Culinary Arts instructor at Shasta Collage and was recently the Culinary Arts and Hospitality instructor for the local Shasta Union High School DistrictCTE Program. In 1996, Chef Cal was on the California Culinary Olympic Team which competed in Berlin Germany and won the only regional gold medal for the United States.
For the last year and a half Chef Cal has been the Corporate Executive Chef for Black Bear Diners which has 63 restaurants in the western and central United States and is currently in the top 200 chains in the country.


July Chef Insights - Johannes Bernau, Executive Chef, Who Song & Larry's
June Chef Insights - Ryan Vargas, Chef de Cuisine at Emeril's Tchoup Chop