Chef/owner of Sotto and Rossoblu (opening winter 2017), Steve Samson grew up learning the craft of cooking from his Bolognese mother. His summer trips to visit family in Italy fomented Samson’s passion for authentic Italian food and lead him to enroll at the Institute of Culinary Education as a Blue Star Ribbon Graduate. Following graduation, he cooked professionally throughout New York City and Maine and soon found a mentor in the lauded Italian restaurateur, Piero Selvaggio. Samson found himself back in Italy, this time sent by Selvaggio to stage in some of Italy’s finest, Michelin-starred restaurants, including Dal Pescatore, Il Duomo, and Il Cascinale Nuovo.
Samson returned to the U.S. with a better knowledge of southern Italian food and worked at Valentino in Las Vegas and Santa Monica, and Del Posto and Sona in Los Angeles, where he met David Myers. Myers and Samson opened Pizzeria Ortica in Orange County to much acclaim but Samson eventually made his way back to LA where he found a partner in restaurateur Bill Chait and opened Sotto in 2011. While Samson has proven himself as a master of southern Italian cuisine, he remains nostalgic for the flavors of his childhood, and is in works of opening Rossoblu, a restaurant focusing on the Bolognese dishes he learned to cook alongside his mother.
What was the first dish you cooked with your mother and how did it inspire you to become a chef?
I distinctly remember sitting around the table making tortellini with my mother. It’s an iconic dish in Bologna, where my mom grew up. It was those summers where I spent in Bologna as a child, cooking and eating with family, that inspired me to become a chef. Even now all the kids in our family help make tortellini with nonna.
What is the one thing you are most thankful to Piero Selvaggio for?
Piero believed in me as a young chef and trusted to me run his flagship restaurant after it had been open for many years. I was the first American born chef to run his restaurant.
From cooking with your mother to opening Sotto, is the nostalgia still there?
The nostalgia is definitely still there. Opening Sotto is all about the memories I had growing up cooking not only with my mom, but with my family as well. Those memories will never go away for me and I want to keep them alive for my kids.
You are opening your second restaurant Rossoblu in the fall, can you describe the concept?
Rossoblu pays homage to Bologna and its region, Emilia-Romagna, the region where my mother, her parents, and countless generations before were born. It’ll be a contemporary Los Angeles Italian restaurant, bridging Bologna and Los Angeles — basically a culmination of my career in one space.
What is the feeling you want your guests to have when they come in and also leave your restaurant?
I want guests to feel like they just had dinner in a friend’s home, where they not only feel comfortable but warm from being around great food and people.
What’s the philosophy behind your cooking and ingredients chosen for dishes?
I like using professional techniques towards traditional food. Italian food is simple, yet challenging. A big chunk is based on ingredients and selecting the best ingredients to cook with.
What is your favorite dish to cook?
As much as I enjoy making pasta, I love grilling meat — a nice big, beautiful piece of dry-aged steak.
If you had the chance to eat any dish created by any chef, what would it be?
Sushi by Jiro.
If you weren’t a chef, what do you think you’d do?
Before I went to culinary school, I was on the family path to become a doctor. I guess I would have saw that through.