By Becky Streeter
Meet Eric Mendoza: The Lakely’s new chef. Hailing from Orange County, CA, Eric made his way to Eau Claire, WI and fell in love with the culture, community, and food. In a city that prides itself on keeping things local, Eric’s philosophy for cooking fits right in.
Landing a position at a five star restaurant in Laguna Beach, CA right after culinary school really sparked a love of farm-to-table restaurants for Mendoza. “I started in a great place that taught me how to use fresh, seasonal ingredients,” he says. “This launched me onto a career path that involved only seeking out farm-to-table restaurants that were chef driven and constantly changing their menus. It’s my philosophy on cooking and always has been, so it was a great fit and transition to become a part of the Lakely.”
Mendoza likes to source from any farmers in the area growing or producing great product. Networking is huge priority for him. Mendoza says, “Going local is incredibly important to me for a ton of reasons: It supports local workers, promotes a sense of community, allows the public to see and know that great food is attainable, it is healthier for us, it’s less expensive than sourcing from across the globe, it tastes better and cooks better, it’s more exciting to play with, and it supports our ecosystem.” Clearly he fits right in at the Lakely, and in Eau Claire.
Mendoza already loves working at the Lakely. He says the staff is great and he loves the feeling of seeing people smile because of a great meal (both those that are eating and those that are cooking/serving). He sees restaurants, especially the kitchen area, as being a team sport. Without the kitchen crew, he wouldn’t be able to execute his vision. The Lakely is a fairly small restaurant and kitchen, so he’s careful to not burn the staff out with his big ideas, but he does want to teach them how to make great food and to do it over and over again so they are all learning and becoming stronger cooks. “I love that the Lakely has a great culture and great people,” he says. “It makes it a lot easier to go to work knowing you have support.”
Never dreaming that he’d wind up in Wisconsin, Mendoza is having a blast so far. “I’m loving the town, the football culture and the people. I feel blessed to have come into such a cool place at a time like this. I believe the universe has a plan and sometimes you just have to be accepting of what it hands you. Your ‘dream’ is not always going to present itself in the way you want or think it should.”
Keep an eye out for some tasty new items from Chef Eric at the Lakely this fall including a chilled gazpacho, tomato salad, street corn, a new burger, a house made vegetarian pasta, a flat iron steak, and a ricotta fritter dessert.