We love that lark has become a platform for talented people who are passionate about their craft. Hence, we are thrilled to introduce Chef Taylor Elam of Merkatö. We met pre-pandemic and reconnected on (nearly?) the other side as our first opportunity to create + collaborate arrives 12/2/21 in the form of a private pop, with equally passionate guests, at the super hip Cleobella Boutique in Sunset Beach.
Here’s a fun Q + A to understand why our chefs always have creative control of the menu!
Where are you from and where do you live now?
From : San Juan Capistrano, California
Current : Newport Beach, California
What is your earliest memorable culinary experience?
I was probably 4 or 5 years old. It was chopping vegetables with my grandma & mother for Sunday dinners.
What drives you to create food?
To always be better than your last plate.
We feel there is an expression or feeling you want to share with your craft? Are we onto something?
Absolutely. The satisfaction I get when people tell me that was one of the most unique preparations of an ingredient they’ve ever experienced. Those compliments reassure that all those years of hard work have paid off.
You’ve worked in a quite a few kitchens, can you drop some names or share some highlights (thinking style, pace, vibe, high/low)?
Fleur de Lys, San Francisco – Modern French, classic & fun. At the time they had a Michelin star. It’s where I got my start as a prep cook during my externship upon graduating culinary school. It’s also the kitchen thats responsible for me growing up. Hubert Keller is one of the nicest French chefs on the planet. That’s saying a lot haha.
Spago, Beverly Hills – fast paced, elegant & militant. Hands down the toughest kitchen I’ve worked in. 4-6 hundred covers a night. Celebrities & Hollywood socialites were the norm. Expectations were firing high on all levels daily. The hyper focus I learned on technique, balance, detail & seasonality helped mold me into the chef I am today.
What should people know about fine dining?
It’s a whole other planet. It can make or break a young cook in the best possible way. It takes a certain kind of person to dedicate themselves to that world.
What is behind the name Merkatö?
Merkatö translates to market in the esperanto language aka “International Language”. Esperanto doesnʼt belong to a particular nation it belongs to a community of people.
It’s known as a supranational language. Like many others itʼs used to communicate its culture, literature & magazines. Unlike all other languages, Esperanto does not have its own country, nor its own people. Instead, it belongs to itʼs community. We belong to a community.
Merkatö is a new concept launched during the pandemic, can you elaborate on the concept?
Breaking bread will always bring people together. We endeavor to use that language to tell stories, share space, invite partnerships and raise awareness of the farm-to-table process.
We approach our work and our community with humility. We believe in sustainability and infuse it in all that we do. We respect ingredients, in recipes and in people.
Everyone is unique and deserves a personalized experience. We foster transparency in our work because we are proud of our ingredients, our partners, our employees and our achievements. Everyone is welcome at our table. No exceptions.
Merkatö (and/or your culinary quests) also has had other twists & turns. We like to see you hanging in there, how do you visualize Merkatö evolving?
Merkatö is evolving every day. Food is still the focal point & always will be, but I envision it to grow to so much more than that. Education, product development & destination dinners are new ideas I’ve been working on this last year. I have a small line of products that were approved by the FDA. I see it becoming more of a lifestyle brand as well haha. That sounds funny to me when I say that, but it feels like it having so many layers & ideas. Exciting stuff for the future!
What is your most marked culinary characteristic?
I am very lucky to work with & highlight some amazing products here in the golden state. I am not a plant based chef by any means. I do love opening peoples minds with vegetable cookery & treating them as you would your favorite wagyu steak.
Who is on your food prep playlist?
Oh man hahah. I love everything. Really depends on the menu. Some of my cooking favorites the Grateful Dead, muddy waters, the Allman brothers, Skinshape, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Wilson Pickett, toots & the Maytals, Iggy Pop, Wu Tang, Bobby Womack, Social D. I could go for ever haha.
What ingredient can you not live without?
Quality olive oil.
Culinary school, yay or nay?
Yay, City College of San Francisco.
What not so obvious thing should people know about pursuing a career as a Chef?
It’s not as glamorous as the media portrays it. It has its glamorous moments, but there’s typically many years of sweat & tears before applause.
For those who cook at home, what is one easy must do tip you can give them?
Don’t compromise quality.
Who are your heroes?
Modern. Organic. Inspirational. Social Dining. Come on a lark with us!
Although this lark is a private pop, we invite you along through our images & stories.