When Phil Stefani and his Uncle Lino opened their first restaurant in 1980, they—of course—knew that the success of their enterprise would depend on the life blood of any Italian restaurant: pasta.
So, they went to the source: Italy. Enter Luigi Pedretti. He brought the recipes, helped buy the machines and set up the kitchen at the original Stefani’s restaurant.
While he was working to set Stefani’s culinary program on a foundation that still holds strong and true today, he began to teach the pasta-making process to a young employee, Luis Loza (below). Twenty-two-years-old at the time, Loza learned. And worked. And stayed. Today, he works at Stefani’s corporate kitchen to create the lion’s share of the pasta used across Stefani’s dining ventures–and has been doing so for 22 years now.
“[Pedretti] put Stefani’s right at the top as soon as he got here, especially in regard to fresh, traditionally-made pasta,” remembers Loza. “He eventually went back to Italy, and that’s when [Stefani’s Executive Chef] Claudio [Ulivieri] became our head chef and decades later, here we are.”
Now 44 years of age with 22 years under his belt at Stefani’s, Loza has a unique perspective on the leader of Stefani’s culinary world, Ulivieri–all the way back to working at the original Stefani’s together.
“He’s a very smart guy, creates good recipes and is a very good chef. He likes to make new things and is full of ideas. At work, he’s tough; outside of work, he’s a very nice guy.
“In my position, working with and understanding a number of different chefs, what they expect from their pasta is very important,” continues Loza. “I work with the chefs and Claudio when they need something specific and this is a company that’s not afraid to innovate. If you make something new, and it’s good, they’ll use it.
“[The chefs] might say, ‘Try this,’ or ‘Why didn’t you do this?’ But, if it works, they’ll use it.” And they do:
Loza knows the making of fresh pasta like you know how to take a shower in the morning, but it’s not a static thing. As seen above, he makes many different types of pasta on a regular basis. He’s regularly challenged to innovate, create and adapt to the varying demands of Stefani’s various restaurants and chefs.
“If you see pasta on almost any Stefani’s menu, we’re making that here,” says Loza, of the 10,000-sq.-ft. kitchen where he spends his days. “Each chef is different and I work closely with all of them.
“I make seven different pastas for the Tuscany restaurants; three at Riva Crab House; and two at 437 Rush, where [Executive] Chef [Federico Commachio] makes his own pasta, too. He insists on using only the best ingredients and so do we.”
All of this is done under the daily tutelage of executive chef Daniel Vogel, who oversees the entire 10,000-sq.-ft. facility. Of this sustenance-producing behemoth kitchen, Vogel says, “It’s a kitchen, but since we supply other kitchens, we are planning at least two days out.”
Timing is important; so is the capability to handle volume without sacrificing the product, says Vogel.
“It’s about keeping quality right at the top while still doing volume. I think of it like this, we just did a party for 700 people on Friday. In a restaurant, that takes them two hours. We did it in 20 minutes.”
Working fast and with precision is crucial to the Stefani Corporate Events & Catering team, but remember the 20 minutes mentioned above is possible because of 30-plus years worth of dedication to an ideal by chef after chef, employee after employee. Those 700 people were served and made happy, at least in part, by the 22 years worth of work and dedication given to this company by invaluable people (not employees, people) like Luis Loza.
Thank you, Luis, for your decades of service and to our customers, next time you take a fork full of pasta down at one of our restaurants, or events, smile and think of Loza–a man who lives for pasta.
© 2018 Phil Stefani Signature Restaurants
Photography by Nick Ulivieri