Joseph Tripi (right) poses with Mickey Mouse at OC Chef’s Table, a fundraiser to help end homelessness. (Trevor Baird/Courtesy)
Joseph Tripi enjoys preparing gourmet meals not only for his community, but also for his friends and family.
Imagine you discovered your calling in life when you were only five years old. Food was what Joseph Tripi knew from an early age. When he was 22 years of age he began his career and worked for the world’s most renowned chef, Wolfgang Puck. He has opened 27 different restaurants around California, specializing in a wide variety of cuisines and later landed a position as the executive chef at a locally owned, five star restaurant in San Juan Capistrano, where he creates his own recipes for discerning guests, making his dream become his reality.
Tripi ran and managed some of the most famous restaurants in the country including Morton’s Chicago Steakhouse, California Pizza Kitchen and Cheesecake Factory and also made large strides by opening four restaurants of his own. He has traveled back and forth between Las Vegas, San Diego and Orange County opening restaurants, training international chefs and consulting for restaurants. Now working at Trevors at the Tracks in San Juan Capistrano, Tripi has taken his life long skills and has put them towards his creating his own recipes and operating the kitchen.
“I have been lucky in the sense that I’ve worked at corporate restaurants to get kind of the structure and systems,” Tripi says. “And then I’ve also worked per se mom and pops like one off places like Trevors, it literally is a mom and pops because it’s Trevor and his mom and his dad.”
Tripi has been able to work creatively as well as structurally through his corporate jobs. As a chef he starts with gathering the finest ingredients from local farmers for his dish and ends with the plate presentation as he wants to perfect every detail that goes into his recipe and its appearance. At Trevors normally there would be the annual transition between the spring/summer and fall/winter dishes, however because of the coronavirus the menu will keep its current dishes until January.
Although the coronavirus has put a halt to his fall recipes, it has not put a halt on his creativity at home. Being Sicilian, Tripi’s favorite Italian dish to prepare is risotto and he is also a huge fan of steak, even adding it to his risotto.
“I cook a lot of steaks at home, actually a lot of stuff during quarantine I cooked a lot of food, three meals a day.” Tripi says. “Breakfast, lunch, dinner I change it up, it could be Asian stir fry, like I said steaks, pasta it’s kind of a little bit of everything.”
Tripi can make even the simplest of recipes burst with unexpected flavors. He even says his goal is to prepare his food at home as if he were going out to eat. He pulls out his phone and shows a picture of how he would want his prime beef dip to look like if he were to go out and eat the same dish at a restaurant.
“So there’s caramelized onions there’s the crispy onions there’s red bell peppers there’s cheese there’s horseradish,” Tripi says. “So it’s not dinky and it’s got other flavors going on there.”
Tasting his own food can be a challenge as he is allergic to seafood, that doesn’t stop Joe from putting together tasty dishes. From his garden fresh salads to his juicy steaks, Tripi takes his ingredients to a different level, allowing one to take in all the flavors Tripi adds. His salads are all “different in their own way,” and he calls them the “kitchen sink salad,” because he grabs a large bowl and puts assorted ingredients together.
“Actually all the salads, I think I got like seven different ones and they’re all different in their own way and they do very well,” he says.
As an executive chef, Tripi takes pride in his work. Though he finds that his ongoing struggle is trying to get people to care about the work they do, he says his favorite part of being a chef has to be “being creative with the menu.” His least favorite part? “The long, odd hours.”
His day starts and ends the same way, making sure everything in the kitchen and restaurant are organized. A day in the life of Tripi consists of being on his feet all day while also keeping everything and everyone in order.
“My day usually starts by reorganizing the kitchen and restaurant storage locations from the night before or from the staff in the morning,” Tripi says. “Once open, usually working the expo window and coordinating cooks, runners, waitstaff on food quality, efficiency and presentation. Then transitioning into the night shift and basically doing the same before leaving for the night.”