Tuesday, February 7, 2012

For the Love of Food: Stephen Lott

I'm so excited today to feature Stephen Lott, lover of quality food and head chef at Pizzeria 712 in Orem, Utah. Pizzeria 712 is a restaurant that puts its focus on the food. (What a concept, huh?) By promoting sustainability and local ingredients, their food is (based on the reviews I've read) absolutely amazing. Braised beef short rib served with polenta and horse radish cream? Ricotta gnocchi served with crushed tomatoes, picholine olives, oregano and pecorino? Buttermilk panna cotta served with fresh blackberries? Is your mouth salivating yet? I know. Mine is too.

Remember this amazing quote from a couple weeks ago? It hangs on Pizzeria 712's walls and sums up their food philosophy.

"When you have the best and tastiest ingredients, you can cook very simply and the food will be extraordinary because it tastes like what it is." - Alice Waters

Stephen was kind enough to answer a few questions for me. Read below to learn more about why he loves cooking, the best thing he ever ate, how to buy the best food, and why everyone should teach each other how to cook. Stephen was even kind enough to share his amazing recipe for buttermilk panna cotta. Yum!

When did your love/appreciation of food begin? Around my senior year of high school. I saw all the gross food that my friends would eat in the cafeteria.  I would always go home for lunch and cook something.

How did you get to where you are today? I am still trying to achieve my culinary goals. I did not attend school. I learned everything through working at restaurants. Of course, I am still improving and learning new things.

What are your longterm career goals? My long term career goal is to be a successful chef. I am lucky to be where I am at. A year ago, I would have told you I wanted to own my own restaurant...and maybe someday I will. I feel as though Pizzeria 712 is my restaurant, or that I have found a home there at least.

What is your favorite thing about being a chef? Being able to serve things that I came up with. Having the creative influence on the restaurant. There is something very gratifying about a customer expressing how much they love your food, and being able to own up to it and say thank you back.

Your least favorite thing? There are not too many downsides to be honest. The hours are a little rough. If you like your holidays/weekends/nights...do not consider this a career path.

What is the best thing you ever ate? I thought the pork belly at Ichiza in Las Vegas was amazing.

What is your favorite meal to cook/prepare? Anything dealing with dough. We have an awesome ricotta gnocchi that I really like to cook. There is something so visceral and wonderful about working with doughs.

A lot of people think cooking is a burden. Why do you love to cook? Well of course, the end product is always a big plus; but there is a great deal of expression and passion that goes into it. Once you break into it, it is almost mesmerizing.

Describe your food philosophy. I have a very deep-seeded appreciation for food and I think it shows with the food I like to cook. I like to keep things simple--good ingredients do not need much tampering. It just takes a little bit of seasoning and simple cooking techniques to wow somebody. My food philosophy has a lot to do with buying local products and really knowing where your food comes from. I get down about the way people view food; some eat just to fill their stomach. Even worse, some people LIKE that really bad food that you can get from the gas station or at a McDonald's. If we can change the minds of people in our community about what food really should be, then I think that is enough for me to keep doing this for the rest of my life. 

What is your response to people who say it's too expensive to buy local, organic food? I would tell them that they are going to wrong places. When you are walking past the produce section at Walmart and see that it says organic, and then compare the price to a tomato shipped from halfway across the country then, yes, you may see a big price mark-up. Go to the farmers market. Even better, go to the farms. Go help pick some cherries or apples and get to know the person growing your food. Not only will it be much less expensive, but it will be much more worthwhile. Besides, local and fresh food just tastes so much better. Once you see that, you will never complain about the price of a local tomato again.

Anything else you'd like to include? Everyone should teach each other to cook. I think it is really important as a society to keep traditions in food going. In turn, we can help educate people and change their ideas about food.

A Recipe for you guys:

Buttermilk Panna Cotta (makes 24 good sized portions, great for a large get together)

5 cups heavy cream
2 cups sugar
3 vanilla beans (cut and scraped)
11 gelatin sheets
1/2 gallon buttermilk (cold)

Soak the gelatin sheets in ice water. Heat cream, sugar, and vanilla in large stock pot. Bring temp up just enough to where the gelatin sheets will be able to dissolve. As the geletin and take off heat. Let stand for 15 minutes, and then add the buttermilk. Strain, portion, and refrigerate. Once the dessert has had time to set up, serve with your favorite fresh fruit or compote.

Photo Credit: Erica Crismon


Heather Belle said...

Your first paragraph was making me drool! And to think I just ate dinner, too! Geez.
Really cool post :) Thanks for sharing!


STEPH J said...

so good looking, AND a good cook? i'd definitely drop by if i was in the area! ;)

♥ valour & lace

Katie W... said...

I just found your blog and I'm in love! It's suck a great mix of food, style, and travel. I can't believe all the places you've been!

I'm a new follower :)

sorelle in style said...

That Alice Waters quote is so true! Great interview - too bad we don't live closer so we can sample the food! That recipe sounds delish, thanks for sharing! :)

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