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Dash of Youthful Talent : Boy Wonder Stirs Up Magic at Antonello

April 29, 1993|MIKE SPENCER | Mike Spencer is a member of The Times Orange County Edition staff. and

For some time now, Carlito Jocson has been known as a boy wonder of chefdom--and still is by any gourmets who have voted in more than two presidential elections, even though he's inching toward the age of 26.

Jocson, who has been head chef at Antonello Ristorante in South Coast Village, Santa Ana, for three years, gained notoriety at 19 when he became the youngest person ever invited to participate in the annual Great Chefs of Orange County charity affair.

And he had been cooking professionally for two years when that happened.

Experience and maturity have only made him better, he says, "because I've learned so much, especially about the business, from (Antonello owner) Antonio Cagnola."

"He's great to work with and an inspiring teacher as well," he says (even when Cagnola isn't within earshot).

So, what's a young man who was born in the Philippines doing running the kitchen of a top Italian restaurant?

"It's very similar to the kind of food I grew up with," Jocson says. "My grandfather was Spanish, so we ate a lot of dishes made with olive oil, tomato and garlic and very simply prepared.

"Then you add the Oriental influence of stir-fry in the Philippines, and you pretty much have modern Italian cooking without the pasta."

Jocson came to the United States at the age of 9 and was raised in Fullerton. "Food and cooking were always my passion, so when I was offered by first cooking job, I left school (he was a biochemistry major at UCLA), and I've never regretted it."

And while he spends his workdays almost exclusively with Italian foods, he doesn't get far from his roots when he's home. "My wife, Elizabeth, does most of the cooking at home, and she prepares mostly Filipino dishes, like pinakbet, a vegetable stew made with okra, eggplant and lima beans."

Experience has only added to his enjoyment of the restaurant challenge, he says, so much so that he welcomes duplicating dishes customers have had elsewhere. "That's a dangerous thing to do, you know," he says, "because if you can't do it right, you risk losing a customer.

"We haven't failed yet."

Each day, Jocson comes up with 12 specials (six for lunch, six for dinner) to complement the regular menu. In addition, Antonello has a room near the kitchen for private parties of up to a dozen diners where the regulars expect a little extra magic.

It was for a party in that room that Jocson originated the Frittata di Carciofini, a baby artichoke omelet. The dish can be served as a main course for four or served in smaller pieces as an appetizer.

"Baby artichokes are in season right now," he says, "so it's a perfect time to try it."

The dish is a bit labor-intensive because of the artichokes. You can take a shortcut by using canned baby artichoke hearts. But, be warned, it won't be as good.



2 large lemons, halved

24 baby artichokes

6 large eggs

1/4 cup Italian parsley, finely minced

1 teaspoon garlic, minced

1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese, grated

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 cup water

Salt, pepper

Put lemon halves in a large bowl of cold water. Add artichokes and soak for 30 minutes. Clean the artichokes with a sharp paring knife: Cut off ends of stems, cut around bottoms (outer green leaves will fall off; you'll be left with just the light yellow leaves). Heat half the olive oil in saute pan. Add parsley, garlic and artichoke hearts. Saute over medium-low heat about 10 minutes. Add 1/2 cup water and cook over medium heat until water evaporates. Set aside. In bowl, beat eggs. Add Parmesan cheese and artichoke hearts. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in 14-inch non-stick pan. Pour in egg-cheese-artichoke mixture and cook 3 minutes. Place a plate over the pan and flip the frittata onto the plate (cooked side should be down). Place pan over plate and flip back into the pan. Cook another 3 minutes. Can be served hot or cold.

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