There’s Just Something About Cake

Cake is comfort, celebration, ritual, beauty. Cake is a universal symbol of happiness, playing a starring role in many of life’s most important rituals—especially weddings.

Wedding cakes are a significant component of business at M Cakes Sweets—and owner Rita Nguyen Pham wouldn’t have it any other way. The beauty, joy and tradition Rita finds in a couple’s celebration of their love and commitment to each other is the inspiration behind her intricately designed cakes—the delicious, beautiful finishing touch to the unique aesthetic the couple shares with family and friends on their most important day.


“There’s just something about the union of couples, the celebration of their future together, that gives me great joy and inspiration.” 

Edible Artistry
And beautiful hardly begins to describe Rita’s work. A self-taught baker, her passion is reflected in her dedication to using the finest ingredients and in her impeccable technique, both learned from hours in the kitchen perfecting her recipes. Her baking talent is matched by her innate artistry, seen in the intricate, creative displays of her products, and illustrated by her hand-painted designs in creative color palettes that evoke the true spirit and essence of every event.


Rita’s talent, sparkling personality and energy has not gone unnoticed. Her cakes and other decadent sweets—think sea salt caramel pudding shots, pastel macaroons, cake pops, coconut caramel brownies and maple bacon cake donuts, just to name a few—are in high demand, drawing glowing reviews from her local Southern California community and endearing her to local vendors that call on Rita time and again to complement their events with her delicious and gorgeous displays of cakes and desserts.

The Business Behind the Beauty
Rita’s journey from novice to professional baker hasn’t always been easy. Behind every magical masterpiece she creates are hours of hard work as well as the help of many friends, family members and business partners. From baking as a young child with her mother and then teaching her own daughters, to learning how to assemble tiered cakes from friends, to partnering with talented wedding planners, designers, florists and photographers, Rita values the partnerships that have helped grow her talents and her business.


And one of her earliest and most important partnerships is with The Hood Kitchen. Rita considers baking at the Hood one of her best business decisions, and remembers touring The Hood, seeing big, clean professional kitchens with specialized equipment for bakers and feeling relieved that she had found the perfect kitchen space for her business.

Rita considers baking at The Hood one of her best business decisions.

Her connections at the Hood have helped her perfect her work, learn new techniques and find business partners to collaborate with—and have taught her valuable lessons in how to run her business. From choosing the best suppliers and vendors, to learning the latest decorating technique, to marketing and financial advice, Rita has leaned on her Hood community for critical advice that has saved her time and money.


Rita is grateful for these collaborations and all the other services The Hood offers—the cleanliness, attention to each client’s needs, carrying and updating insurance and maintaining health code compliance—that allow her to concentrate on creating the best quality, best looking and best tasting cakes and sweets in Orange County.

Follow M Cakes Sweets on InstagramFacebook and Pinterest.



Go Out to Dinner. It’s OC Restaurant Week.


Get out of the kitchen for a little while—because the best dining in Orange County at the best prices began Sunday, March 5 and runs until March 11 during Orange County Restaurant Week.

Indulge in a selection of specially priced menus at 100 of Orange County’s best restaurants, showcasing some of the region’s most talented chefs who have personalized each menu to reflect their culinary style. There are meals of every kind, at every price point. The prix fixe menus are priced at $10, $15 and $20 per person for lunch, and $20, $30, $40 and $50 per person for dinner.

Kick off OC Restaurant Week at the 2017 First Bites, OC Restaurant Week Launch Party on March 4, 2017 at the Irvine Marriott, where you can be the first to sample “First Bites” from dozens of fantastic Restaurant Week menus.

More information is available here on pairing wines, beers and cocktails with your meal, and for dining suggestions, cocktail options, restaurants with views and more.

So make your reservations now, and enjoy family night, date night, girls night out and more during the most delicious—and affordable—week of the year in Orange County.



Food is Life. Just Ask Photographer Anne Watson.

Current Mood: Any Anne Watson Photo

Every meal has a backstory—and Anne Watson is an expert at telling those stories, evoking strong, universal feelings of connection through her award-winning food photography. Food comes with narrative, and every new experience with food—shopping, cooking, sharing meals—creates more sensory experiences and memories. Anne’s passion for food photography and her breadth of experience in the food industry has led to a unique photographic style that is in demand worldwide—and has created a master storyteller.

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Anne’s online portfolio illustrates her take on the intersection of life and food—and displays her instinctive talent and skills in reflecting the very best of Southern California’s burgeoning food and restaurant scene. That doesn’t mean Anne shies away from other challenges, as evidenced by the granola recipes Anne developed as part of her recent product photography shoot for a local artisan food company. And the photos taken at the Newtown Culinary Pop-Up Dinner, billed as an “elevated backyard BBQ experience,” show off the talent, creativity and passion found in the food industry, as well as Anne’s technical skills.

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Away from the camera lens, Anne is a mother and stepmother, living with her husband on a ranch in North San Diego County. We recently caught up with Anne to talk details about her photography, highlights of her day job, and other facets of her very busy life.

Shooting Food Takes Some Serious Equipment

Q. A photographer’s camera is obviously critical to your work. What camera do you use? And what lenses?
A. My main camera is a Nikon D800 – it’s basically an extension of my right arm at this point! As for lenses, I have three main lenses that I tend to use most, two prime lenses and one zoom. My Nikkor 60mm f/2.8 Micro, Nikkor 50mm f/1.4, and Nikkor 24-70 f/2.8 zoom. I have others in my toolbox, but these three are the ones I carry with me on a daily basis.




A Day in the Life of a Food Photographer

Q.  What is the most unusual setting you’ve ever photographed food in?
A. One of the most unusual, unique shoots I’ve ever done was with the Hass Avocado Board at sunrise in a beautiful avocado grove in the foothills of San Juan Capistrano. We had to drive for miles on tiny dirt roads in the dark to get to our location and set up before the sun rose. Then, when sunrise happened over the avocado trees, it was pure magic. We were able to capture the avocados in their natural setting in the golden hour at sunrise and throughout the morning – including teams of avocado pickers who were harvesting that day, singing together as they worked. It was amazing.

Q. Can you share a story about preparing a food photo shoot that didn’t go as planned? How did they work out and how did you recover?
A.  I have been very fortunate, as I don’t really have a “disaster shoot” story to share. However, I’ve definitely had a handful of shoots where the client had one thing in mind when I showed up (usually it’s a wish-list of more shots than were possible in a given timeframe), and we had to adapt the shot-list as we went along based on what they were able to produce in the amount of time we had.

Personal Preferences

Q. You’re around great food all the time, usually prepared by someone else. Who prepares the food in your home?
A: I absolutely love to cook. I actually started my career working in a professional kitchen in Boston, so cooking is a passion of mine. I just found my best station in a kitchen turned out to be behind a camera instead of a stove! So, I do a lot of cooking in our home kitchen. And my husband, Tim, is an absolutely amazing cook on our grill and outdoor smoker. We eat outside almost every evening in the Spring & Summer, usually with something Tim grilled as the main course, and then side dishes prepared by me in our kitchen.

Q. What are family favorites to cook and/or eat out?
A: Sous Vide BBQ Babyback Ribs are a family favorite to cook in our home – it’s a team effort, as I do the dry rub & sous vide the ribs for at least 12 hours first. Then, Tim grills them to a perfect crunchy exterior with plenty of sticky BBQ sauce before we dive in. They melt in your mouth. Paired with an avocado-tomato-herb salad from our garden, it’s a family Summer BBQ favorite.

Q. Is there an ingredient you can’t live without?
A: Good olive oil. And fresh herbs picked from the garden box that Tim built for us outside of our back door.

Q. You’ve been all over Orange County. What restaurants/food establishments/caterers are your personal favorites?
A: Oh my goodness, that’s a tough question! So many amazing places and incredible caterers, it’s hard to narrow down. I would say the first places that pop to mind, though, are my friends Chef Carlos Salgado’s restaurant, Taco Maria, at Costa Mesa’s SoCo Collection and Chef Jason Quinn’s restaurant, Playground, in Downtown Santa Ana.

Q. When you’re not photographing food, what are your favorite things to do and other personal passions?
A:  My husband Tim & I, and our 3-year-old son Russell, live on a ranch in North San Diego County where we have a 1,300-vine Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard and raise chickens, goats and pigs. So, when I’m not shooting food, my favorite things to do include walking through the vineyard with our son, and spending time with our animals. I also ride a 2010 “Fat Bob” Harley-Davidson motorcycle – Tim & I both ride, and enjoy going out on our motorcycles in our spare time.

Follow Anne Watson Photography on Twitter/Instagram @annewatsonphoto.

Go on a Lark. It’s Good for You.


Break Out of Your Rut. Go on a Lark.

It’s been raining here in Southern California. A lot. So break out of the winter doldrums and explore something new—and there is no better way to go on a journey of discovery  than to go on a lark.

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So what exactly is a lark? Founder and owner Lisa Gutierrez-Martinez describes a lark as a pop-up restaurant and marketplace experience—and much, much more. It’s an adventure, an escape from the ordinary—an opportunity to relax and enjoy intellectual conversations with friends and family in an inspirational environment with exceptional food and wine. The unique experience reinvigorates your senses and enriches your life as you and your fellow guests open up and share your passions.

It’s All About Collaboration—and Connection

Building community is what The Hood Kitchen Space and the Lark Artisan Market are all about. The Hood co-owners Shelby Coffman and Christie Frazier support and are a part of the growing group of Orange County food entrepreneurs and chefs finding success at The Hood. And the core of Lark’s business model is to support and nurture passion discovered in the people met along the way, and share that passion with others. And so when Lisa and Shelby met—on a lark, of course—they shared an instant connection from the inspiration and energy they both derive from creative culinary experiences and eclectic, understated and simplified surroundings.


Through Lark’s collaboration with The Hood, Lisa met one of her most valuable Lark team members, Chef Kyle Powers of Fork In The Road catering, a long-time Hood client and  culinary treasure. And both The Hood and Lark have benefited from shared marketing and exposure, as well as exchanging experiences and ideas that are important to both of their businesses—communal dining, giving back to the community, and inspiring and nurturing through food, art and design.

Do. Reflect. Refine. And do again.

So what does the future hold for Lark? Lisa’s vision of her business as malleable and flexible continues to guide her plans for the future. Lark is constantly reinventing itself, while at the same time holding steady to her commitment to providing the space for people to come together and enjoy simple culinary pleasures in beautiful and inspirational environments. With her many connections to the local Southern California food scene, her knowledge and experience in interior design and art, and her love of discovery, a brick-and-mortar indoor/outdoor space combining all these elements continues to appeal to Lisa.


But she never wants to be far away from her true passion—producing pop-up dining events—and thinks about expanding from 12 to 24 events per year. Lisa’s belief that the “element of the unknown feeds you creatively and keeps you evolving” moves her forward every day, as she continues to do what she loves—conceptualizing and creating interesting spaces to inspire guests through food, design, art, and conversation. 

Larks are open invite until all seats are full. For more information, visit Lark’s websiteFacebook page or follow Lark on Instagram at @letsgoonalark

Lark Artisan Market is based in Huntington Beach, California.


Valenza Chocolatier Creates Amore!

It’s Valentine’s Day. We’re Here to Help.


Everybody loves chocolate. That’s one reason why chocolate remains a traditional Valentine’s Day gift, year after year. And there are many kinds and brands of chocolate to choose from today—but we just happen to have the inside scoop on one of the best chocolatiers in the business—Valenza Chocolatier.

We’ll admit upfront—we’re biased. Valenza Chocolatier prepares its authentic Italian-inspired artisan chocolate and confections right here in The Hood Kitchen. We’ve had the privilege of watching master chocolatier Amy Jo put her business on the map with her award-winning chocolates and confections—and yes, we’ve spent a lot of time at the gym because of Amy Jo! Amy Jo’s commitment and passion for chocolate is reflected in her Valentine’s Day Collection, perfect for any special person in your life.

“I love deeply, I cherish all the little things, and I adore many people – these are just a few of the ways I express some of my greatest passions. My Valentine’s Day Collection is an expression of how beloved my passions are, and it’s only fitting that the meaning of my name (Amy) also means beloved.”

So act now. Valentine’s Day sneaks up on us every year, and shipping deadlines are tight:

Shipping Order Deadline: Friday, February 3rd, or until sold out; Shipped orders will be mailed USPS on Wednesday, February 8th.

Local Order Deadline: Friday, Feb. 3rd, or until sold out; available for pick up starting Friday, February 10th.

And if you miss the shipping deadline, no worries. Come into The Hood Kitchen Space for Valenza Chocolatier’s Pop Up Shop:


February 10-11 10 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.

February 13   12 – 7 p.m.

February 14  10 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.

The Hood Kitchen Space
350-A Clinton Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

It’s Newport Beach Restaurant Week

cropped-2017nbra-1024x445.jpgNewport Beach Restaurant Week began on Monday – and since Orange County’s longest-running restaurant week is actually a two-week event, you still have plenty of time to visit some of our favorite spots in the OC. The last day to enjoy this eagerly anticipated community event is January 29.

So take a break from your own kitchen and experience the wide array of culinary experiences at great prices. And when you post a photo on Instagram with #thehoodkitchen, we’ll enter you in a drawing to win a free Hood t-shirt and repost the winner’s picture.

But you’re going to have to make some choices – and we’re here to help. There are more than 60 participating restaurants, from community fixtures to buzzed-about newcomers, offering special prix-fixe menus with lunches available for just $10, $15, $20, or $25, and dinners for $20, $30, $40 or $50.

We’ve scoured the menus, tasted the food and come up with our picks for the best deals. Here are our favorite spots and our favorite dishes from restaurants participating in Newport Beach Restaurant Week.


provenanceProvenance | $20 per person
Cup of Chicken Tortilla Soup
All Natural Chicken Breast, Savory Spicy Tomato Stock, Avocado, Cilantro, Ricotta Salata Cheese, Crispy Corn Tortillas
All Natural Boneless Beef Shortribs + Grilled Cheese
Havarti Cheese, Sweet and Sour Onions, Pickles, Dijon, Parmesan Cheese on Brioche Toast
Mini S’more in a Jar
Dark Chocolate, Brownie Bites, Torched Housemade Marshmallows, Caramel, Graham Cracker Crumbs

gratitudeCafe Gratitude | $20 per person
Present/Autumn Bruschetta
Roasted radicchio and butternut squash, pickled red onion, cashew mozzarella, arugula, pine nuts, balsamic reduction
Welcoming/Stuffed Phyllo
Roasted vegetables, french lentils, sautéed broccolini & kale, braised butternut squash, housemade gravy, toasted pistachios

slapfishSLAPFISH | $10 per person
Taco & Chowder Fries
Single Fish n Chips & Bowl of Chowder



hopdaddyHopDoddy | $10 per person
El Diablo Burger
Angus Beef, Tillamook Pepper Jack, Habaneros, Serranos, Carmelized Onions, Salsa Roja, Chipotle Mayo, Red Leaf Lettuce, Beefsteak Tomato
Unsung Buzzman Cream Ale


dorydeliDory Deli  | $10 per person
Clam Fritters
Lifeguard Club Smoked turkey, bacon, avocado, tomato, fresh greens, and mayo on squaw bread




summerhouseSummerhouse | $20 per person
Chicken and Vegetable Potstickers
5 potstickers – pineapple soy dipping sauce – Asian slaw – wasabi aioli drizzle
Fresh Grilled Salmon
Teriyaki drizzle – Asian slaw – crispy wontons – daikon sprouts
Chocolate Heaven
Flourless brownie soufflé cake served hot with vanilla ice cream

redoRED O Restaurant | $40 per person
Red O Caesar Salad
Romaine lettuce, toasted pepitas, cotija cheese, Caesar dressing, grilled white tortilla crisp
Enchiladas Suizas
Choice of chicken or roasted vegetables with creamy tomatillo sauce, melted Monterey Jack cheese, friseee, Mexican red rice and beans

mozzaPizzeria Mozza  | $30 per person
Mozza Caprese
Pizza choice: Bacon, salame, fennel sausage, guanciale, tomato & mozzarella



flynfishFly’N Fish Oyster Bar and Grill | $40 per person
A cup of our “Award Winning” New England clam chowder
Santa Barbara Field Greens
Fresh Little Neck clams, Maine scallops, Alaskan king crab, green lip mussels, assorted fin fish and calamari, white wine, roasted tomato basil broth, served with Italian herb parmesan toast
Warm Banana Chocolate Bread Pudding
Vanilla bean ice cream, dark rum spice, cinnamon glaze

restaurantaA Restaurant | $50
Pork Belly and Blue Lake Beans
Sambal glaze, almonds, sesame seed, togarashi
Wild Mushroom Soup
Puff pastry, porcini, perigord noir truffles
Colorado Lamb Rack
Couscous, mint, medjool dates, smoked eggplant, spiced jus


What is Newport Beach Restaurant Week?
Newport Beach Restaurant Week is a 14-day dining event taking place at participating restaurants throughout Newport Beach. During the event restaurants offer special menus at set prices for diners to enjoy.
When is Newport Beach Restaurant Week?
2017 Newport Beach Restaurant Week is Monday, January 16 – Sunday, January 29, 2017.
Are there tickets?
There are no tickets, passes or coupons required for Restaurant Week. Simply dine out at a participating restaurant. It’s a great way to try a new restaurant or enjoy an old favorite.
What are restaurants offering during Newport Beach Restaurant Week?
Participating restaurants will present a fixed price, multi-course menu for lunch and/or dinner. The Restaurant Week menus are available to view online at
How much does it cost?
Lunch menus are being offered for $10, $15, $20 or $25, and Dinners are $20, $30, $40 or $50. Prices and meal periods vary by restaurant and exclude beverages, tax and gratuity.
How do I take advantage of Newport Beach Restaurant Week?
Simply dine out at one of the participating restaurants. Advance reservations are recommended and diners can make reservations online at
What’s the idea behind Newport Beach Restaurant Week?
In it’s eleventh year, Restaurant Week was created by the Newport Beach Restaurant Association to drive business to its member restaurants and build awareness of the Newport Beach culinary community. The event not only introduces new customers to restaurants, but also enhances the economic vitality of Newport Beach.

Gifts for the Chef in Your Life


Good news—you still have another week before Christmas and Hanukah to find the right gift for the special people in your life. And to make it easy, we’ve put together the perfect list for anyone and everyone on your list. Because who doesn’t love food?

Cookbooks, one of our favorite go-to-sites for all things food, has put together the ultimate list of the only 10 cookbooks the modern home cook will ever need. These classic and timeless cookbooks are perfect holiday gifts for both the budding foodie and the experienced chef, guaranteed to inspire, inform and delight.

So with a grateful shout-out for curating excellence—the Epicurious Cookbook Canon.

1. The Joy of Cooking, 75th Anniversary EditionIrma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker. You may already have a copy of this all-purpose, time-tested cookbook in your kitchen. If not, we love the 75th anniversary edition, satisfying home chefs and their lucky dinner guests for almost 85 years.

2. Mastering the Art of French CookingJulia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck. Julia Child inspired many American home cooks to put gourmet meals on the table that had once seemed too complicated, too expensive and, well, too French. What better way to uncover the secrets of great French cooking than to challenge yourself with this masterpiece classic?

3. Baking: From My Home to YoursDorie Greenspan. Dorie Greenspan’s delightful writing has drawn legions of fans who connect with her on a personal level—and appreciate that her recipes just plain work, time and time again. So when serious and novice bakers alike want to satisfy their sweet tooth, there’s no better place to turn than Dorie’s comprehensive baking cookbook.

4. The Taste of Country CookingEdna Lewis. The Taste of Country Cooking, released in 1975, was a cookbook ahead of its time. Edna Lewis’ rural Virginia upbringing is reflected in this ode to Southern food culture, predating the current Southern food trend that celebrates seasonal ingredients and traditional African-American cooking. Don’t miss the biscuit recipes.

5. Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London’s OttolenghiYotam Ottolenghi. Leave it to Yotam Ottolenghi to move vegetables to center stage in Plenty, one of the most popular cookbooks to come from across the pond. Ottolenghi’s vibrant take on sprucing up vegetables in innovative, delicious and easy ways has Americans taking notice—and stocking up on produce at the market.

6. Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking Marcella Hazan. For those that haven’t heard the buzz around an incredibly simple and addictive four-ingredient Italian tomato sauce, here it is. Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking contains every recipe you’ll ever need to create Italian dishes that embrace seasonal produce, pair sauces and pasta perfectly and feature abundant use of balsamic vinegar. You’re welcome.

7. MomofukuDavid Chang and Peter Meehan. Looking to impress, flex your cooking skills and show that you’re hip with the New York City food scene? Throw around David Chang’s name and his restaurant Momofuku while you show off recipes and techniques that are leaving a hefty footprint on modern American cooking. Yes, this is a restaurant cookbook—but you will use it. We swear.

8. The Zuni Cafe CookbookJudy Rodgers. The late chef Judy Rogers advocated cooking with seasonal ingredients and challenged home cooks to up their technique game to become even more skilled in the kitchen. In addition to containing one of the greatest recipes ever, the Zuni Cafe roast chicken, The Zuni Cafe Cookbook has become the foundation of how many people cook today.

9. Mexico One Plate at a TimeRick Bayless. Rick Bayless’ Mexico One Plate at a Time is the quintessential introduction to Mexican cuisine. Americans have long had a love affair with Mexican food, and this book not only delivers an entry to authentic Mexican cooking and ingredients, but the culture behind each dish as well.

10. Readers’ Choice: Community Cookbooks | We love the final choice in Epicurious’ Cookbook Canon. From 1970s-era Southern Junior League cookbooks to Orange County synagogue spiral bounds from the 1990s, community cookbooks reinforce what home cooks instinctively know—do your thing.

Tools for the Kitchen
Enhance your favorite cook’s time in the kitchen with the best tools and gadgets around.

OXO Good Grips Salad Spinner
 | This easy-to-use spinner dries greens better than most.

Metrokane Rabbit Corkscrew | Worth the price to be the easiest and most efficient way to open a bottle of wine.

Cuisinart Smart Stick Immersion Blender | If you’ve never used an immersion blender before, now is the time to invest in one to puree soups right in the pot, easily mix sauces in a bowl, and thicken and emulsify sauces on the stovetop.

Silpat Baking Sheet | Use these silicone baking pan liners instead of parchment paper, and watch everything you bake come off easily with no tearing.

De Buyer Swing Mandoline | Home cooks have discovered this professional tool that makes julienne cuts, thin slicing, crinkle cutting and waffle cutting easy—and protects your fingers, too.

OXO Good Grips 9-inch Tongs with Nylon Heads | We depend on OXO’s Good Grips ergonomically-designed tools in the kitchen—like these tongs, that help us easily handle hot food.

Global G-2 8-inch Cook’s Knife | This 8-inch stainless steel-handled knife by the Yoshikin company is the perfect size for just about everything you need to dice, cut and chop in the kitchen.