“The biggest thing about being a chef is to make a recipe, and then break it up into different parts like you would a science problem,” says Jeff Mahin, chef-partner of Stella Rossa Pizza Bar in Santa Monica. “I start out with a hypothesis, ‘This is how I would like this to turn out,’ and then I make a recipe as I cook.” As the son of a civil construction engineer and a Ph.D metallurgist, this vein of thinking is certainly natural to Mahin, who spent months perfecting his signature pizza crust. Before opening Stella Rossa and joining Richard Melman’s Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises at age 27, Mahin worked the kitchen at Nobu in New York, matriculated to UC Berkeley for a double major in math and chemistry, and assisted in the lab at The Fat Duck in England. Now, with two California restaurants and Do-Rite Donuts in Chicago to think of, Mahin takes a break from the kitchen to talk food philosophy, and share an exclusive pizza recipe straight from his menu. —Sasha Levine (@sashalevine)
You went from the laboratory of The Fat Duck to founding your own pizza bar. Have you found a sweet spot between the intensity of high-end gastronomy and the simplicity of more accessible foods?
I don’t think I’ll ever shake my scientific mind of being precise on certain things, but I really wanted to utilize products for what they are instead of using the bells and whistles. I wanted to get back to natural cuisine.
Is there anything you miss?
If you asked me that two years ago I might have said yes. We were doing all these amazing things with science and using all this fancy equipment, and I just woke up one day and was like, Man, this isn’t really food anymore. It’s not why I got into it. That was my emancipation from fine dining. I wanted to strip away every piece of fluff, every piece of heuristic thinking, and just get down to the brass-tax of what cooking is.
Tell us about how you develop new dishes.
It really starts with tasting at the farmer’s market. I’ll smell a peach or I’ll try a tomato, and that’s what gets the inspiration going.
Of all the culinary things to geek-out about, why dough?
Bread is always something that has interested me, and it’s only four or five ingredients tops: flour, water, yeast, and salt. But it’s how someone takes care of it, how someone mixes it, and how someone uses the flour [that makes the difference]. We tried 40 to 50 different pieces of dough before we even opened [Stella Rossa Pizza Bar].
Tell us about the burrata pizza recipe you shared with us. The flavors are very straightforward: rosemary, fennel, and buratta. For me it’s a perfect summertime pizza because it’s so light. The burrata, when it’s hot, melts and gives you this really sweet, cheesy, flavor.
Shaved Fennel and Burrata Pizza
From Jeff Mahin of Stella Rossa
1000 grams bread flour
720 grams water at 58 Fahrenheit
25 grams salt
5 grams yeast
Using a digital scale, precisely measure out each ingredient. Set up your mixer with a dough hook. Place water into mixer. Add remaining ingredients and slowly start to mix together. Mix the dough on low until it starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Allow dough to rest for 20 minutes. Turn mixer to medium high for three minutes, or until shinny and elastic. Lightly coat a bowl with olive oil. Remove dough from mixer and place in oiled bowl. Allow to sit out for one hour at room temperature. Flour counter surface. Place dough onto floured surface. Cut dough into 300 gram portions. Lightly oil six plastic quart containers and place one dough portion into one container, sealing lid tight around the top. Place the dough into the cooler over night. The next day, pre heat the oven to 550 Fahrenheit with pizza stone inside for at least one hour. Remove containers of dough from refrigerator and allow dough to rise to the top of container. Carefully remove dough and shape the pizza.
1 pizza dough (above)
2 ounce of crème fraiche
3 cups of thinly shaved fennel bulb
2 ounce shaved Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped rosemary
2 tablespoons olive oil
Preheat oven to 550 Fahrenheit with pizza stone inside, warming for at least one hour. Shave the fennel into cold water using a mandolin. Strain fennel and set aside. Place fennel into a medium size bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Stretch out pizza dough to desired size—preferred 10-12 inches—and place onto a pizza peal dusted with fine corn meal. Smear crème fraiche over the base of pizza. Spread shaved Parmesan cheese over crème fraiche. Loosely spread the fennel over pizza. Sprinkle with chopped rosemary. Place in oven. Once pizza is golden brown, remove with pizza peal. Top with three ounces of fresh burrata and five or six leaves of fresh basil.
Source: Lifestyle Mirror Photos by Anjali Pinto