Certified Sake sommelier, lover of French and Italian cuisine and former executive chef of BOA Steakhouse, Chef Vernon Cardenas has more than two decades of experience in the restaurant industry and it shows in the dishes he creates as executive chef of State Social House.
Chef Vernon was born in San Diego, spent his formative childhood years in Japan, then returned to Southern California at the age of 13, when he started working at his first restaurant. By 18 years old, he was already the assistant general manager of La Petite Chaya, the first of the Chaya restaurants and the originator of French-Japanese fusion cuisine. Even without formal culinary education, Chef Vernon trained under some of the best sushi chefs on the West Coast.
We met Chef Vernon at the State Social House to geek out over LA’s best tacos, mom’s home cooking and restaurant hopping while we munched on specialties like soy-glazed Shishito peppers, bacon and gruyere mac and cheese, an addicting giant pretzel accompanied by spicy stout mustard and clover honey and succulent pork belly tacos. (And yes, there were strawberry, mint, rum and Allaghash White Ale Brewjitos involved).
Tell us more about the State Social House.
Upstairs is the attic, we have live music every night, comedy shows on Tuesdays, jazz night on Thursdays and karaoke on Sundays. The attached cigar lounge downstairs is the only place in LA where you can drink, order food from the full menu and smoke all at once in a clean and inviting environment. Our menu is full of gastropub-style, upscale bar food and I make every dish like I’m cooking it for my mom.
Who are your culinary influences?
The chefs that most influence me are my mom who first taught me to cook, Chef Yukito Ota in San Diego, who opened my eyes to the fact that Japanese food is more than just tempura and yakitori, and Susumu Fukui, the executive chef at La Petite Chaya, who let me run wild around the restaurant in my early years.
What is the best dish and drink combo at SSH?
Soy garlic steak and the red wine sangria.
Where is the best seat in the house?
Next to me. Or on one of the high stools in the middle of the room so you can feel the pub atmosphere around you.
What is your favorite ethnic cuisine and where’s the best place to get it in LA?
Being half Mexican, I love tacos. I always go to Los Tacos on Santa Monica and order their chicken tacos combo with rice and beans. You can tell it’s a great Mexican restaurant by the taste of their rice and beans.
If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever eaten in LA?
Candied crickets at Typhoon in Santa Monica. They also had noodles with silk worms, but I didn’t try that.
Describe a perfect Sunday:
I would sleep until noon and do my laundry when I woke up. Even if I were a billionaire, I would still do my own laundry. Then I would go out for mimosas and appetizers at the Belmont. Last week, I went restaurant hopping around Hollywood, first to Delphine, then to the Hungry Cat, and finished off at Cleo’s. I always just order drinks and appetizers, never any entrees.
Tell us three things people would be surprised to know about you.
I was either going to be a photographer or a chef. When I was 15, I won first place in a photography contest. I used to cook for a bunch of celebrities so I know what dishes the stars like to order. Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston loved to order Sake and salmon sashimi when they were still together. Lastly, I don’t always like to eat at fine dining restaurants.
Where is one place everyone should visit?
Hollywood, not because of the celebrities, but because they have a lot of up-and-coming restaurants. This area of LA is going to be the next food destination.
Describe LA in a sentence (or three):
The future home of my family—I came, I loved, I stayed. LA is what you make it.
Originally published on LosAngeles.com.