Chef’s Corner with Chef Simone Santopietro at Obika
Tucked away on the top level of the Westfield Mall in Century City you will find an amazing, authentic Italian restaurant: Obika. Who knew?! You may pass by and think it’s a Japanese sushi joint due to the interesting font choice of the logo. But nope, it’s authentic. It’s amazing. It’s Italiano! Chef Simone manages the kitchen and oversees the Valoriani-Mugnaini wood burning pizza oven that burns at over 900 degrees and auto-magically produces the best pizza you’ll get outside of Italy. And don’t dare to ask for substitutions. Do yourself a favor, and just eat it as it comes, like a true Italian.
How did you get started cooking?
Professionally I’ve been cooking for over 17 years. But I’ve had a passion/hobby for cooking since I was four years old. I like fire…
Are you a fire sign?
No, I’m a fish (Pieces).
You’ve been in Los Angles for three years. What are the two biggest challenges cooking in Los Angeles vs your native Milan?
1. In Italy we have a natural sequence of seasons. For example, there is a season for baby artichokes, for butternut squash. It’s easier in Italy to get the right produce from the right vendors from the right farmers. I would never ask for asparagus in July, nor would I get it. Here in Los Angeles, I can get most produce whenever. I prefer to cook by Mother Nature’s natural intent.
2. Fighting the “frozen food system.” Everyone here in the USA wants to tear open a bag of frozen vegetables. It’s convenience over freshness/quality. I’m breed to use produce fresh. I use only what is fresh, when it’s in season (naturally). Food is best prepared in a fresh, simple, natural way. I like to slice, cut my own foods. Everyone here uses pre-sliced items.
What’s the most interesting things you’ve tasted?
Chicken balut. It’s a fertilized chicken or duck egg, nearly ready to hatch that is boiled and you eat it…all. I’ve also tasted unpasteurized caviar (actually right around the corner from here.) It was interesting as it was a surprise how wonderful it tasted. I also had an amazing red onion compote. It was amazing because the red onion was from Tropea—a village near Calabria.
Is there any food you don’t like?
I don’t care for sushi or wasabi. I think it’s an Italian thing. My thought is: rice should be in risotto.
Where do you dine out locally on your nights off?
I really like Piccolo in Venice. It’s pretty authentic Italian, which besides Obika, is hard to find in Los Angeles.
What’s your favorite food?
Chocolate! I especially love chocolate from Madagascar. Something about the beans… I also like chocolate from Modica, Sicily. Chocolate is an element and a drug!
What special promotions are coming up at Obika?
We prepare a monthly regional dinner usually the third Tuesday of each month. The May dinner, however, is an exception, as it will be on May 22 and will feature the Lazio region. Chef Simone is still finalizing the menu for Lazio, so be sure to check the website soon for the details: http://www.obikala.com/