Interview with Pastry Chef Dahlia Narvaez of Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza Los Angeles, CA

April 2010

Antoinette Bruno: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Dahlia Narvaez: I grew up as a cook. I was the family cook and the oldest of three so cooking was a huge part of my life. When I decided to go to college I went to community college for a few years. But it wasn’t for me—what I really wanted to do was cook. I decided I was going to get into a kitchen and I did. It came naturally to me. Before [Mozza] I worked at Campanile. I was the sous chef for a few years and then the pastry chef. Then I was at Jar for a year before these two places came about. I love Suzanne [Tracht] and they didn’t have a pastry department so it taught me to work with what I have. It was a great learning experience.

AB: Do you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs?
DN: I think it’s a good tool for people who are really not sure what this industry is about. I don't think it’s completely necessary. You've got to bust your butt—so that minus the $50,000 tuition.

AB: Who have been your mentors?
DN: It would have to be Nancy [Silverton], of course—that's obvious. I'm a huge fan of Claudia Fleming. And Mario [Batali] has just been the biggest supporter. As a businessman he is such a great person to look to. He's here three or four times a year and he's really involved with what we're doing on the menu.

AB: What advice would you give to young chefs who are just getting started?
DN: Definitely be in the know. Start to figure out what the new restaurants are, what the trends are. Start going to a farmers market, thinking seasonally, reading books, going out to eat. The best thing I've done is seek out the new restaurants; go to your favorites.

AB: If there was one thing you could do over or do again what would it be?
DN: I think there may have been a window where I could have gone to New York to work and I stayed to open these two restaurants, which I don’t regret but I would have liked to see what would have happened. I can't complain right now.

AB: How do you develop a dessert?
DN: You want to think about what is the strongest flavor you want to pronounce, then you build in textures and flavors that go into that. But it can take weeks. I build it in pieces. My favorite thing is to figure out how to get that hot-cold element, that’s my favorite thing in my desserts. I also think about acidity.

AB: What are your tips for pastry success?
DN: Definitely know your clients and your guests. For the pizzeria, we have to keep it simple, but stick to your guns—you're an artist and creator. And don't be afraid of constructive criticism.

AB: How are you involved in your local community?
DN: We do participate in a lot of charity events throughout the year all over the country. We are also huge supporters of our farmers market; we promote their produce all year round.

AB: Where do you like to eat in Los Angeles?
DN: Karen and Quinn Hatfield are opening Hatfield's across the street. Zoe Nathan [of] Huckleberry. Off the beaten path I like Jitlada, a southern Thai place. Also Park's Barbecue in Koreatown for Korean barbecue.

AB: What has been your proudest accomplishment in your career to date?
DN: It has to be opening these two restaurants [Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza]. Devoting a year and a half to opening these restaurants and getting such an overwhelming response from the community and everyone was just pleased with them.

AB: What’s next for you? Where will we find you in five years?
DN: In five years I will either be part of this great company because it is expanding really fast, or I'd like to be in my own little space. Definitely a little eatery with savory and pastry; I would take my husband with me. [I would] definitely go smaller and try to be the big fish in the little pond.