The Chef Special: Mark McDonald


Mark McDonald is an internationally recognized chef, restaurant owner, and restaurant consultant.

In 2007 Chef Mark opened the award-winning restaurant, Old Vine Cafe, in Costa Mesa, CA. His menu offerings reflect a commitment to regionalism and the use of local seasonal ingredients, a hallmark of Chef Mark’s culinary training in southern Italy. Chef Mark studied at Laguna Culinary Arts before moving to Calabria, Italy to study under Master Chef John Nocita at the Italian Culinary Institute.

In this interview, Chef Mark talks about his background, his experience with his restaurant Old Vine Cafe, and provides some tips to young aspiring chefs.

Where would you consider you’re “Hometown” growing up?
“Born in Long Beach, raised in Huntington Beach”

When did you know that you wanted to become a Chef?
“Ever since the first grade”

How long have you been cooking professionally?
“Over 12 ears in BOH and also have over 10 years FOH experience”

Who played the biggest influence in your style of cooking?
“Chef John Nocita of the Italian Culinary Institute, Italy”

You studied under Master Chef John Nocita at the Italian Culinary Institute, what was the most important thing you learned there?
“Respect quality ingredients and let them shine!”

What is your regular comfort meal??
“Quesadillas!”

Which restaurant do you most enjoy eating at your night off?
“Kitakata Ramen in Costa Mesa”

If you weren’t a chef or in the food business, what would you be??
“There’s nothing I rather do!”

Tell us your “Death Row Meal” – What would you get for your last meal here on earth?
“Chicken fried steak, eggs, and biscuits and gravy”

You’ve accomplished a lot in your career, what else does the future hold in store for you?
“I plan to do more traveling, teaching abroad, expanding my culinary tours, and consulting on an international level”

You opened your award-winning restaurant, Old Vine Cafe in Costa Mesa in 2007, what is the story behind the name?
“Old Vine Cafe is a wine driven concept. The name comes from the low-yielding, old vines that produce some of the most concentrated wines in the world”

What do you do to stay educated about new trends?
“I try not to follow the frequent culinary trends. I travel, study and continue learning as much as possible so that my skills can evolve, while staying true to my quality ingredients.”

Are you affected by reviews at all? What is your opinion on food writers?
“There are some great food writers out there, and some that are more questionable with the inconsistencies of their reviews. Any chef would be dishonest by saying reviews do not affect them, however I try to not let it get to me.”

What do you look for in those that you mentor?
“Good positive, respectful attitude, and willingness to work and learn.”

Have the expectations of customers changed during your career?
“I don’t think that too many expecations have changed aside from the growing diet trends.”

What would your message be to aspiring chefs?
Don’t worry about what you get paid
Forget about what you see on TV
Start at the bottom and prove yourself to your chef and his/her team.
Don’t hop around from kitchen to kitchen early in your career. Spend at least a couple of years at one place to maximize learning and growth potential.
Never think you are too good to learn from anyone, even your dishwasher.
Devote personal time to studying food, ingredients, techniques and the science behind them.

In continuing his effort of supporting his local community, Chef Mark will also be a mentor to CulinaryLab students as they go through their apprenticeship program.

In addition, CulinaryLab’s Chef Ryan Wagner has a collaboration in the works with Chef Mark coming this September 20th. The event will feature a live cooking demo and tasting and wine and cheese pairing. Details of the exclusive event will be released soon.

Read more about Chef Mark and Old Vine Cafe at www.oldvinecafe.com.