READING

In the Kitchen with Chef Melissa Ortiz

In the Kitchen with Chef Melissa Ortiz

Written and photographed by Cassidy Liston

 The Bamboo Club on Anaheim is the addition to the Long Beach food and drink scene you didn’t know you needed. On a recent visit, I chowed down on their tender and sweet Thai-tea-brined fried chicken sandwich. One bite and I was blown away by the flavors. Sweet from the tea brine, salty from the crispy batter, and a hint of spice from a pickled chili aioli. It goes without saying that the sandwich was a home run. I had walked into the dark, atmospheric bar expecting their elaborate tiki themed drinks to be the undefeated star of the show (don’t get me wrong Brian Noonan’s cocktails were killer, seriously go drink one), but one bite of that sandwich and I knew why people were flocking to this out of the way spot in droves. Everything I tried was as pleasing to look at as it was to eat, pairing wonderfully with their cocktail menu. I found myself surprised by the amount of flavor and ingenuity there was in every dish, blown away by something as simple as a mushroom and rice bowl.

 When head Chef Melissa Ortiz came out to check on us I couldn’t help myself but pick her brain about the menu. I eat, a lot, and she had more than exceeded my expectations for what I had originally thought was more of a bar than a restaurant (my mistake!). She dove into the processes of the dishes, the work and dedication that went into each one. The two-day long process of brining the chicken, the in-house pickling of different vegetables and chilis, and how they started making their own curried spams. Everything is made in-house, from scratch; well, everything that makes sense is. The truth is that spicy aioli on the sandwich, while made with house pickled Fresno chilis and fresh ingredients, was made with regular store-bought mayonnaise. Chef Melissa told us how she caught some flak for not making her own mayo, but she couldn’t stand wasting all of those perfectly good egg whites. She went on to tell me she was intent on limiting waste in her kitchen, not just food either. They switch to compostable plates after 5pm and serve all of their drinks with paper straws.

Mushroom and Rice Bowl

Paper straws and compostable to-go boxes are common around Long Beach these days. There are even events based completely around restaurants, bars, and coffee shops in our city that have eliminated styrofoam all together. But Melissa’s approach took things a step further, all while holding the integrity of the food.  When I asked Chef Melissa what inspired this passion she told me: “I think it’s important to be mindful and respect every ingredient that comes through the door. Utilizing each item to its full potential.”

When she says to their “full potential”, she means it! I was surprised to hear one of the more creative ingredients she was able to accomplish using products that would typically be waste. “Our shrimp salt. We take the shells of the shrimp which would, in a normal environment be thrown in the trash. We dried it out, took our leftover rice and dried it out as well. We ended up turning it into a delicious salt. We now use that shrimp salt for our shrimp toast.” When I tried the shrimp toast it had a flavor and texture that was completely unique. I hadn’t had anything like it before. The idea of using something that would almost certainly be discarded to actually enhance you dish in this way is inventive and exactly what makes Chef Melissa the best at what she does.

Fried Chicken Sandwich

 If you’re thinking there must be push back to this ‘use everything’ mentality you’d be wrong. Everyone in the kitchen and behind the bar leans into the idea with gusto. “It’s great to see the kitchen staff, bartenders, and bar-backs really understand that nothing should get thrown out before asking.” Chef Melissa tells me. “It’s become a thing. I’ll go in the walk in and on the shelf, there will be some ginger pulp, peeled oranges, not so pretty mint. Eventually we will have our very own garden out back…So far everyone across the board understands the vision.” The Bamboo Club is truly a unique experience the theme is all-encompassing without being cheesy, the drinks are creative (and strong!), and the food is like nothing you’ve tried before. When I asked Chef what her advice to other restaurants wanting to follow her lead was, her answer was simple and smart: “Respect the ingredients and think outside the box. Nothing can always be turned into something.” 

Shrimp Toast

You can find The Bamboo Club at 3522 E Anaheim St, Long Beach, CA 90804. Open daily from 11:30am-2:00am. Chef Melissa Ortiz is also starting a pop-up dinner series focused on similar farm to table, minimal waste ideas. She’ll be collaborating with local favorites from Black Bar LBC and Gusto Bread on this “Family Meal” garden and community table project. Follow their work @bambooclublb and @familymeal.lbc for updates and even more drool worthy photos.


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