Chef Stephan Samson of Pizzeria Ortica - Biography

Costa Mesa, CA

October 2011

Beyond handmade pizza and pasta, Zachary Pollack and Stephan Samson have a surprisingly similar path to culinary enlightenment. Neither chef set out in life to sauté, but both found their way to their life calling via Italy. The more senior of the pair, Samson, grew up spending summers in Bologna at his grandparent’s home where handmade pasta was the norm. Samson initially pursued medicine, but his heart wasn’t in it. He left the Columbia University pre-med program and enrolled in the culinary program at New York City’s Institute of Culinary Education.

Samson worked in Maine, New York City, and then at the three-star Michelin rated Dal Pescatore in Italy (one of the many Michelin-starred Italian restaurants he’s worked in over the years); he cooked for Chef Piero Selvaggio for many years, helping to open Selvaggio’s Los Vegas outpost of Valentino in 1999 and eventually becoming chef of the LA branch. Next, Samson joined the kitchen team of David Myers’ Sona; shortly thereafter Samson and Myers started discussing opening a pizza place—what would become Pizzeria Ortica.

Zachary Pollack’s culinary experience as a child, on the other hand, was one of microwave and cardboard box dinners. There was little to ignite his culinary fire early on, but a year abroad in Italy as a student of architecture at Brown University changed that. Instead of contemplating Roman arches, Pollack scrutinized farmers markets, food shops, and restaurant dishes. Back in the US, the aspiring cook spent his college breaks interning for Chef Neal Fraser at Grace, where he met his current partner in the kitchen, Steve Samson. Upon his college graduation in spring of 2006, Pollack was promptly offered a job at Grace and later at Fraser’s BLD. Pollack was lured back to Italy later that year to stage in several Michelin-starred restaurants. A year later, Pollack reconvened with Samson at Sona.

In January 2009, Pollack and Samson opened Myers’ Pizzeria Ortica.