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Local chefs (from left) William Eick, Moises Hernandez, Pete Zacarias and Monica Szepesy. Courtesy photos/The Coast News graphic
Local chefs (from left) William Eick, Moises Hernandez, Pete Zacarias and Monica Szepesy. Courtesy photos/The Coast News graphic
ColumnsFood & WineLick the Plate

Local chefs reveal the food, music that moves them

One of my favorite parts of the radio/podcast version of Lick the Plate is when we discuss where my guests eat around town and what music is moving them and inspires them in the kitchen.

I thought it would be fun to transfer that concept into this week’s column, so I caught up with a nice mix of North County chefs and owners to find their favorite eats and music picks. The mix includes William Eick of Matsu, Naegi and Hokkaido Bread Company; Monica Szepesy of Q’ero; Pete Zacarias of Inland Tavern; and Moises Hernandez of Black Rail Kitchen + Bar, Lo Cocina Mesa, Tin Leaf and Beach Plum Kitchen.

I started with Eick, a busy man with several popular ventures running who I’ve covered extensively over the past few years. Eick’s pick out of the Matsu kitchen is the Sunflower Dish which he describes as “sweet, spicy, bitter and bold with textural contrasts — it has it all. And it’s unique eating and cooking the sunflower itself.”

Eick can’t get enough of the Tonkotsu ramen at Gonzo Ramen in Carlsbad and eats there once a week at the least. Musically he’s been inspired recently by Japanese artist Yoasobi’s “The Book,” which he describes as “an easy, pop-y Japanese album based on short stories. It keeps the energy level up without being distracting.”

Moises Hernandez, executive chef at Fresh Kitchen Hospitality (another sizable restaurant group), said his go-to is his Chicken Mole dish from La Cocina Mesa.

“We spend hours processing this mole sauce, from toasting our dry chilies to making our chicken stock,” Hernandez said. “And to see guests enjoying this dish gives me great satisfaction.”

Outside of his restaurant group, Hernandez is a big fan of Chick-fil-A.

“I love this place,” Hernandez said. “My brother worked there, and I was impressed that they bread the chicken daily and how fresh that chicken is. I’m also a huge fan of Seaside Market in Cardiff.”

His music of the moment comes from the Mexican band MS.

“Right now, I can’t get enough of this band that is one of the most important bands in Mexico at the moment,” Hernandez said.

Monica Szepesy is the owner of the fabulous Q’ero in Encinitas and one of my favorite guests on Lick the Plate. I’m sure picking a favorite from her excellent menu was tough, but she went with one of their delicious plant-based dishes: Q’ero Salad.

Szepesy described it as “sauteed Swiss Chard and Shitake mushrooms, over sweet potatoes caramelized in sage butter, topped with quinoa.  It’s a dish that combines ingredients used in Peruvian cuisine in a new way.”

Szepesy is also excited about the recently opened Temaki Bar in Encinitas, which she called “a great addition to the Encinitas food scene.”

And, of course, I would expect nothing less than a killer music selection from Monica.

“What’s moving the Q’ero crew and me in the kitchen these days is Bomba Estereo, a group from Colombia that mixes traditional rhythms and excellent lyrics and is very uplifting.”

I’ll wrap things up with Pete Zacarias from Inland Tavern in San Marcos. Zacarias is a big fan of their Double Smash Burger and indulges regularly.

“I guess you can’t go wrong with two perfectly seasoned patties, Koji grilled onions, two slices of American cheese, house made secret sauce, all served on a Hokkaido Japanese milk bread bun,” Zacarias said. “Oh…and our house cut Kennebec Fries.”

Outside of Inland Tavern, Zacarias is among the many culinary professionals who flock to Wrench and Rodent for their Salmon Nigiri.

“Chef Davin Waite has changed the game,” Zacarias said. “The salmon is as fresh as you can get. He slices and then sprinkles this amazing smoked salt and sugar seasoning on top. Truly anything that comes out of Wrench is killer. In my opinion, the best Sushi out there.”

Musically, Zacarias’ tastes have recently veered toward SoCal punk.

“My go-to of late has been Face to Face. Their album Protection is as good as it gets,” Zacarias said. “It’s rare you find an album where you don’t have to skip a track.  It’s rad from beginning to end.  Oh…and yes, I listen to my music on vinyl; it just sounds better.”

And there you have it, a food and music content filled Lick the Plate. I know I’ll be checking out all those music picks and that Chicken Mole dish from La Cocina Mesa.

Check out Lick the Plate in audio form with new guests weekly talking food and music at