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5 Questions for Jeff Mahin

September 26, 2011 |  8:00 am

JeffMahinHeadshotJeff Mahin is chef-partner of Stella Rossa Pizza Bar in Santa Monica. As the son of a scientist and engineer, the 27-year-old followed in his family's footsteps by studying science and math at UC Berkeley before landing a job as a laboratory assistant at Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck in England. He now works with Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, the restaurant group behind Stella Rossa. Mahin says he experimented with more than 30 variations to create the restaurant's signature pizza crust; talk about trial and error, in a good way.

What’s coming up next on your menu? I have a lot of fall and winter ideas. I view summer as almost cheating as a chef. Everything is so fresh and vibrant, so full of life, it’s relatively easy to put a small finishing touch on something and call it amazing. Winter, on the other hand, takes a bit more time and creativity -- braising and roasting are two of my favorite forms of preparing foods. I am looking forward to two dishes (one that we are currently running): shaved fennel with Grana Padano, fresh burrata, torn basil and organic extra virgin olive oil, and roasted cauliflower with medjool dates and Calabrian chiles and chard tomato vinaigrette.

Latest ingredient obsession? Purple mizuna, I can’t get enough of it. I love the flavor and texture. It is such a diverse green; we use the leaves in one of our salads and remove the stems, grill them over our wood-fired grill and use it as a pizza topping.

The one piece of kitchen equipment you can’t live without, other than your knives? A Japanese mandolin. I love shaving things with a mandolin. You name it, I have tried it. There is something about a vegetable that has been sliced using a sharp mandolin that interests me. Whether it’s because they are perfectly uniform, or are translucent, shaved vegetables take on a truly appealing character to me.

What’s your favorite breakfast? Greek yogurt with fresh berries (preferably blueberries) and Hawaiian white honey –- or we could go down the route of soft scrambled eggs with shaved white truffle –- a favorite, but a rarity.   

The last cookbook you read –- and what inspired you to pick it up? "Kitcho: Japan's Ultimate Dining Experience." I love the art form balanced in Japanese food. I find it far more challenging to create simple food than complex food.

Stella Rossa Pizza Bar, 2000 Main St., Santa Monica, (310) 396-9250, stellarossapizzabar.com.

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Photo credit: Gregory Cannon

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