Daniel Pundik: The Locals’ Chef
Catch up with superstar Executive Chef Daniel Pundik of trendy Local Tap House & Kitchen and Exhale, which is expected to open the end of 2018.
Could you describe your background and what inspired you to become a chef?
I grew up in the restaurant business with family owning different delis and restaurants. I was always into music. Music and food went hand in hand in my life at family gatherings and new ventures. I always knew I was going to cook one day and eventually have my own restaurant. Music led me to California and cooking. I walked into a place actually looking for a serving job and the chef said, “No, you’re going to come work in the kitchen.” I’ve been there ever since.
How would you describe your style of cooking?
It’s an eclectic style of cooking. I cook what I like to eat. I try to mix flavors that I know and stay within that realm. Once in a while, I tie in a new ingredient while giving people familiar flavors with nice presentation and a small twist. It’s comfort food to the next level with Southern, Latin, a little of everything mixed in.
What makes LTH special to you?
It starts with the people and comes through with the environment and everyone involved from Gabe our owner, myself, our managers and our service staff. It’s a place like Cheers with a local vibe where you walk in the door and everyone knows your name. It’s a regular place that people frequent throughout the week. They come for the craft beer and food. We even customize food for regulars that want things a certain way or have special dietary needs. We work with our locals. It’s a homey place.
How do you keep things fresh and keep people coming back to LTH?
We change our menu four times a year. We try to work with whatever’s seasonal and pull in some kind of fresh fruit into our salads. We’re always changing, being involved in the community, Cyclops Farms and their farm dinners. We’re keeping it exciting for the locals. They want to be involved in what we do.
What are some seasonal dishes trending now that incorporate produce from Oceanside farms?
For summer, there are lots of strawberries in salads, compotes for meat or fish or relishes. Up at Cyclops Farms, Luke grows rows and rows of different kinds of organic strawberries. I think everyone in Oceanside incorporates his strawberries into their menus.
What is a new food trend that you are excited about right now?
Wood-fired cuisine and that rustic way of cooking are trending right now. It’s what we’re going to focus on with our new venture and I’m excited for that.
How do you develop a new menu item for the restaurant?
We start with an ingredient like a piece of meat or a vegetable then build from there. We cross utilize things that we already have in house so that there’s no waste and everything is always fresh.
How do you choose the rotating tap selection?
I personally do not choose them. Gabe does and takes a lot of pride in it. We stick to local favorites. We have some signature beers that sell the most and then we rotate through sours and IPAs. Each week we try to throw on a few different beers for the regulars so they have something new to try.
What are some of your most popular craft cocktails?
Our two cocktails on tap: Gin & Juice and Moscow Mule. These change throughout the months. That’s our seasonal change behind the bar. They’re prepared in the kitchen with fresh cold-pressed juices, kegged, carbonated and then poured through our tap system to order over ice. They’re really, really good.
What is the concept behind Exhale and how does it differ from LTH?
Exhale is going to be a wood-fired inspired restaurant with the focus on the cuisine, dinner and cooking over a wood flame. Whereas LTH is our 24-hour restaurant driven towards what the locals want with breakfast, lunch, dinner and brunch. We’re always here for the locals and that’s what makes LTH Local Tap House.
What’s cool about the Oceanside culinary community and dining scene?
The sense of community. Everyone knows each other and the vendors. We buy avocados and strawberries from the same farmers. We eventually cross paths at one time. Even front of the house staffs and bar managers seem to know, take care of and reach out to each other if they need something. I like that about Oceanside, that sense of tight community amongst all the businesses and small town feel.
About the Author
Jolee Pink is an Oceanside-based writer, designer and artist. She runs the popular Eat Drink SD Facebook group and her Wabisabi Green lifestyle blog focuses on art, design, food and travel. For more information, please visit wabisabigreen.com.