Editor's note: The following is the fourth part in an ongoing series on notable Long Beach residents.
Chef Rahm Fama is an asset to Long Beach's culinary scene, a celebrity chef in our midst, if you will, who humbly cultivates, inspires and works to lift up our City's reputation for good food.
Starting out on his mother’s cattle ranch in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Chef Fama has roamed the country, living and working as a line cook and chef in cities like Austin, Phoenix, Colorado Springs and New York. Fama now does restaurant consulting for US Foods and has helped open 19 restaurants in 2014 alone. He also volunteers for the local charity Food Finders, has a second cookbook in the works and—while the idea has barely entered the preliminary stages—he plans to open up his first restaurant, which he says will most definitely be in Long Beach.
His Food Network show, "Meat & Potatoes," enabled him to take in the carnivorous culture of various locales throughout the country, to bring all he could learn about meat to the public's attention. Now with the release of his recently published book by the same name, Long Beach local Chef Fama's skills in the kitchen go hand-in-hand with the City's growing array of high-quality restaurants and its up-and-coming food scene.
His love for meat came from his upbringing, where he had to raise and then butcher a lamb at the young and impressionable age of nine.
“I think what really turned the knob on, for me to really appreciate anything steak is when you actually have to butcher the animal that you're raising. In the book, I talk about slaughtering my first lamb at nine years old and you know, my grandfather raised lamb for the whole family and we ate lamb and he would eat some unnecessary parts that weren't appetizing, but we utilized the whole animal.”
“And what that does for me as a chef,” he continued, “is just, I appreciate that even more, my dedication on making sure that the animal that we are cooking tastes the absolute best and nothing goes to waste.”
Once a Belmont Shore resident, Chef Fama now lives in Long Beach’s East Village and is a frequenter of all that downtown has to offer, not to mention the greater Long Beach culinary scene.
“I lived in New York for quite some time and I felt like downtown Long Beach gave me that New York feeling with the beach just being right there,” he said. “I've been at the Pole for three years now and I love my community and I think it's awesome.”
And as far as food in Long Beach is concerned, Fama has a few favorite spots; Open Sesame and Los Compadres were two of the first restaurants he mentioned. Fama says he's been on a along with his current kick, Pho and Korean BBQ kick as of late. Right next door to Los Compadres is the the food fanatic’s favorite Pho restaurant, Pho Hong Phat.
“I've just been loving Pho and I think it's a great breakfast item and you're going to see a lot of those influences in my book. One of my first recipes in the book is a T Bone steak with kimchi on top of it. Which is a total inspiration of eating that charred meat you're cooking at Korean BBQ,” he mused. “When I moved to California I just couldn’t get enough of anything Asian, like Korean BBQ, I was just so in love with it. I like going to Long Beach Shabu, which is totally different for me [...]”
Panxa, the new restaurant on Broadway that replaced Christie’s, is a also new favorite of his. He says there’s nothing in the area like it and commends this new influx of restaurateurs for committing to the scene.
“I love and I'm so proud that all these newer up-and-coming restaurants are going for it,” he said.
Chef Fama is not so much a writer as he is a teacher and presenter, which is reflected in his first cookbook. Teaching someone to perfect a recipe takes a lot more than listing ingredients and measurements; it's about the little tips and tricks that only a chef with Fama's experience in the kitchen and acquired knowledge of culinary culture internationally would know. Only an artist as easily inspired as Fama could have come up with the 5-B Burger—beef, black pepper, bacon, blue cheese and basil butter—paired with smoked paprika parsnip fries, a creative take on the classic American meal.
Fama wrote the book with the help of writer Beth Dooley, who listened to hundreds of voice recordings of Fama talking through his process. Now anyone who buys the book can learn how to make the 5-B Burger, Waffle Fried Chicken or the Hefeweizen Braised Pork Belly with Brie Mac and Cheese, as well as support Food Finders, with 10 percent of all sales going toward assisting the local charity.
Not only is Chef Fama a culinary artist, but he passionately works for the cause of ending hunger within the Long Beach community. Going from restaurant to restaurant to find out what foods are not being used, he helps restaurants avoid wasting food by giving them the opportunity to give their unused ingredients to Food Finders, a food bank and food rescue program.
“I'll go to restaurants and say, 'Hey, what do you have, what can you offer?'" Fama explained. "[The restaurant might say] ‘I have a case of beans that I'm not using, they were on the menu once, they're not expired.’ So we use ‘em.”
Chef Fama couldn't stress enough the opportunity that Eat LBC, happening March 22 through the 28th, gives Long Beach residents and visitors to get to know what the City has to offer their palate in an affordable and approachable way. He described it as a pub crawl, but for restaurants.
“That's an awesome thing that nobody does in LA, nobody does in Orange County, Long Beach started it and I love it,” he said.
On the state of the Long Beach culinary scene, Fama declared Pine Ave. as a truly up-and-coming sector, speaking highly of Bo-beau’s decision to move in.
“Of anywhere they could have moved they chose Long Beach and I think that that's admirable,” he reiterated. “I love that the Federal Bar is there, I love that James Republic is there, all these really high-end—not high-end, i don't' like to say high-end because it makes it sound expensive—but food-centric restaurants are taking a gamble on Long Beach and I think that's that's a great thing to do. That's the kind of stuff that gives me goosebumps.”
On what inspired the chef to pursue a life in the cutthroat hot bed of the culinary industry, he passionately explained that the second he stepped foot into his first professional kitchen, he knew that it would be his life’s work.
“There was no question about it,” he said. “And I haven't worked a day since. It's been nothing but play, and I feel like this is what I do. I have a great time doing what I love.”
A few things he’s learned along the way range from the at-the-time, frustrating, but later humorous and clearly pivotal moments that shape a chef’s career.
Fama laughed and dove into one story. “I remember the time when I tried to make my own ketchup. And I was so disappointed that nobody liked my ketchup. Everybody would always ask for Heinz. I'm like, 'This is homemade ketchup! You know how many man hours... I had to boil fresh tomatoes and peel them and cook 'em down and you want Heinz?!' It taught me that people love a familiar palate, yet they want to be shocked and it's finding all those different things as a chef, like 'Okay, I'm going to tease you a little bit with something that's kind of different, but I'm not going to shock you to where it's so weird that you're not going to like it,’” he said.
Chef Fama has had to hone his creativity, something that an artist has to learn in order to run a successful business.
“When I got my first chef position,” he said “I put so many crazy things on the menu, I could not produce it to save my life. People would wait hours and I just realized that you can't do that as a chef. You know, you want to be as unique as possible.”
“I love being the artist that I am,” he continued, “but I also love the fact that this is also a grueling business and I can't believe that I've gotten this far to get my own Food Network television show and a cookbook, I could tell you what, if I can choose any career at this moment, as of right now, I would write cookbooks for a living. I mean that is a cool job. To be able to just get paid to create and experiment and write, it's a lot of fun.”
His plans for the future do not include more time on the Food Network, although the limelight and national recognition for "Meat and Potatoes" would seem like any chef's dream. His plan is to open a restaurant not in New York, not in New Mexico, not in Colorado Springs, but right here in our own foodie paradise.
“Food Network Show, check, cookbook, check, restaurant… I’m definitely going to open up a restaurant some day and you can guarantee that it’s going to be in Long Beach,” he concluded.
“I just gotta say as a chef and as a restaurant professional and a 'semi-celebrity,' I just love the fact that Long Beach has a little bit of everything for everybody. Right now I'm sitting in North Hollywood, working on a job, and I like it here, but you know, there's just something about Long Beach that I absolutely love.”
“I think that Long Beach could be following the footsteps of the Los Angeles food scene and may even pass it," he said. "So watch out, LA.”
Photos courtesy of Terri Henry Marketing.
Previously in this series: Sublime Saxophonist (Dr.) Todd Forman Spins Music Skills into Medical Practice