Today on Foodie Friday meet Chef Francisco “Frank” Mendoza of Fiction at J. Bookwalter Winery, in Richland, Washington. Recognized by Food & Wine magazine as one of the best winery restaurants in the country, Frank’s menu draws on the abundance of local, natural resources as well as the award-winning wine of J. Bookwalter Winery.
The diverse menu includes mouth-watering comfort foods (avocado fries, hand-crafted pizza, and lamb burger) as well as more sophisticated fare (Applewood smoked bacon-wrapped dates, Columbia River steelhead salad, duck breast with orange gastrique).
What is your role in the food industry?
Executive Chef at J. Bookwalter Winery and Fiction Restaurant.
How did you first get involved in the food industry?
The food industry was booming when I was in my mid-twenties with the rise of the Food Network and the culinary vibe in Portland, Oregon really taking off. This led me to Le Cordon Bleu where I fed my passion for creating unique and original cuisine.
What or who inspired your current role in the food industry?
My mom inspired me to become a chef as I watched her in the kitchen preparing meals for my large family – I have 10 siblings! She also encouraged my passion to create new, fresh and unique dishes. Creating a menu in a town of mostly chain restaurants (this is rapidly changing), it’s nice to know when guests walk through the door, they are getting fresh, unique, expertly prepared food… adding some of the best wine in our region also helps.
My formal education began at the culinary school, Le Cordon Bleu. I spent two years in Portland, Oregon studying French culinary cuisine which led me to an internship in Bilboa, Spain cooking alongside some of the best chefs in the world.
Coming back to the town I grew up in utilizing the knowledge I gained studying, makes me proud to say I am living my dream. What continues to inspire me is the new and vast world of food in general. Creating meals from ingredients that I grow myself or source locally is a huge plus. Doing what I love makes the long hours bearable.
If you had one message for people that don’t live and breathe food like we do what would it be?
Try new things! I encourage people to take a step back and realize how beautiful food can be. We are in control of what we put in our bodies so why not try new, healthy, delicious foods – don’t be afraid. Step out of your comfort zone.
What food trends are most influential in what you do?
True farm to table seasonal food that is as local as possible. I have a garden right outside the restaurant which we are expanding in the near future where I grow a wide variety of peppers, tomatoes, and herbs. I also source as much as I possibly can from local farmers and ranchers. Cooking with local foods allows me to not only serve fresh, flavorful food but the ability to be creative in creating unique, seasonal meals.
What keeps you motivated as a food professional?
The people who enjoy my food. The guests that come in and tell me that they had the best meal keeps me going on those long 14-hour days.
What is your favorite food to make at home?
I love to make paella because it has a little bit of everything, and it reminds me of my mom’s cooking.
What is your favorite meal to order in a restaurant?
Anything seafood as long as it is fresh.
Tell us about an industry professional that influenced you the most.
Ferran Adria of El Bulli restaurant in Spain. A Spanish chef famous for molecular gastronomy. Because of the different ways you can play with food and make it look and taste different.
What cookbooks or cooking classes are most important to you?
“The Science of Food” because it breaks down each and every level of a dish’s ingredients.
Where would you most like to live and why?
On 5-acre farm growing vegetables for our community so our restaurants have fresh local produce.
Tell us about your favorite vacation destination.
Spain, because it is where I experienced the beautiful Spanish culture and had the privilege to with amazing chefs.
What is an ingredient you never use or eat?
Describe your perfect day.
Sleeping in, gardening, spending time with my girlfriend, Brandy, our 3 dogs, 2 cats and 4 chickens and my family.