Chef Justin Miller isn't one to hobnob with guests; he spends his time perfecting the menu at Pizzeria Ortica. He grew up a water baby, but learned cooking was his real passion. The importance of food was instilled early in his life, making for some great stories in this week's OTL.
Could you elaborate on the rustic cuisine of Pizzeria Ortica?
We base most of our dishes off of traditional regional Italian food. Then we will put our spin on it, but using a different technique or a local California product. We try to think outside the box and not just put red sauce and mozzarella on everything– although those two things are delicious.
One food you can't live without:
Carnitas, because it is salty, greasy and pork.
Best culinary tip for the home cook.
Use Kosher salt and enough of it.
Favorite meal growing up.
My favorite meal growing up was definitely corned beef and cabbage. My grandma was Irish, and my dad loved this meal growing up, so my mom would make it for us. Everything is boiled in one pot. First the beef for a few hours, then a bunch of veggies: carrots, zucchini, cabbage, red potatoes and whole onions. French's yellow mustard is a must for the corned beef.
Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
Asian food, specifically Vietnamese. We have the largest population of Vietnamese in the United States, just in our backyard.
Tell us about your employment with Quicksilver Crossing.
It was the most amazing experience of my life. I traveled from the Caribbean side of Panama, across the Panama Canal, all the way up to San Diego on a surf exploration boat. Every two weeks we had a different crew of professional surfers. The boat's job was to find new surf breaks, and my job was to have food on the table. I was able to surf as much as possible, as long as the food was ready.
I met some amazing people along the way. Some of them include Dave Kalama, Lisa Anderson, Mark Healy, etc. When there was no swell we would fish, dive, swim and have fun. Every time we were in port, I would have to collect food and propane for up to two weeks. This was the most challenging part of my job. I speak zero Spanish, so I would rent a taxi for the day and point my way to open-air markets. It was fun to haggle and find new ingredients. I would pack a taxi or two full until I could hardly fit into it.
What do you think of people who take photographs of their food?
It's cool. I do it all the time.
Favorite places to eat (besides your own).
My girlfriend and I are expecting, and lately she's really into going to ARC. Great cocktails and rustic, wood-fired cooking. We also like to travel to San Diego a lot to dine. The farm to table movement is amazing down there, and beer selection rips.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten:
Things aren't very weird these days. I see a lot of hearts, stomach and brains on menus all the time. They are all delicious to me.
I'm really into Paul Bertolli. His style and the way he explains his cooking techniques is genius. He's all about the best ingredients and letting them sing. He makes everything himself. He has now stepped out of the kitchen to make amazing artisan salumi with his company, Fra'Mani.
Most undervalued ingredient.
Olive oil. We use it in everything. We do not use blended oils at the restaurant.
How do you like your pizza?
I appreciate all different styles of pizza. I really enjoy crispy, New York-style, Chicago-style, and of course Neapolitan. I strongly believe that the dough is the vehicle for the ingredients. If it tastes like cardboard, then the best sourced ingredients will be missed.
What advice has David Myers given you to help you excel in your role at Pizzeria Ortica?
He's taught me attention to detail, and that passion will really drive your crew to do better. Everyone has to care. It's infectious.
You're making breakfast. What are you having?
Chilaquiles is my favorite. With tomatillo salsa, crispy thick chips (so that they don't get over soggy), shredded chicken, queso fresco and fried oozing egg. Yum.
Weirdest customer request (and did you do it?).
Always get requests for ranch, which I think is really lame. We respond to those requests by simply saying that we are not offering that this evening.
Being so close to the performing arts area, do you offer any pre-theatre specials?
We are part of the Segerstrom Rewards Program. The pre-theatre rush is an extremely busy time for us at the restaurant. Everyone wants to come in and out all at once during a pretty specific time. We don't necessarily offer pre-theatre specials outside of the rewards program, but we try to accommodate everyone to our best abilities.
Where was your most recent meal?
Sambazon, by the beach. I had the medio burnquist bowl made with blended acai with citrus, topped with granola and fruit. Best breakfast ever. It holds me over for hours.
Your earliest food memory.
Donuts. My dad would take my sister and me to Blackie's at Newport Pier in the early mornings to go surfing. I would love to go to that donut shop [Editor's Note: He's referring to Seaside Bakery.] next to The Blue Beet and have a bear claw. My dad would make me pound a carton of milk; I hated that part.