Stephen La Rosa: ‘Kitchen Confidential’ was one of the reasons I fell in love with the culinary industry

The Culinary Institute of America graduate Stephen La Rosa tells all in our Q&A

The Culinary Institute of America graduate was recruited by Michelin-starred Per Se in New York, Quince in San Francsico and Hélène Darroze at The Connaught in London, before his return to Malta as Chief Culinary Officer at the Mediterranean Culinary Academy. La Rosa now curates a network of farmers and producers and like-minded, holistic individuals in F&B for the Academy’s recipes and menu concepts.

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?

Make my way to the kitchen, fill a French press with coffee and watch YouTube videos until I can deal with other humans.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

If you want anything in life you need to work hard for it. Also if you pierce the creamy part of an Oreo with a fork it’s the perfect tool for dunking them in milk.

What do you never leave the house without?

My backpack, it has an unnecessary amount of organisational pockets which I spend an unreasonable amount of time packing for the occasion. This brings me joy.

Pick three words that describe yourself

Creative, easy-going, sarcastic.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?

Toss-up between my career working in two- and three- Michelin-starred restaurants and launching a culinary school.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?

Pineapple on pizza.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?

Stop for a second and breathe.

Property and cars aside what’s the most expensive thing you’ve ever bought?

Between amassing a collection of Japanese chef’s knives and taking up photography a few years ago I think my laptop still trumps those expensive hobbies.

What is one thing you wish you knew when you were younger?

Adults have no clue either.

Who’s your inspiration?

Definitely my father. He always told me when I was young that when I grow up, he wanted me to be a better man than he was. As I approach my 30s this still seems like a gargantuan task because of what an incredible father, husband and overall human being he is.

What has been your biggest challenge?

First time stepping into the kitchens of Per Se, New York as an intern. I was petrified of what was to come that day each time I walked through the doors but I don’t think I’ve ever grown so much in such a short amount of time.

If you weren’t in the culinary field what would you be doing?

Before deciding I wanted to be a chef I was fascinated with technology but hated sitting at a desk all day. I think photography would be an interesting field that allows for creativity that also has a lot of juicy tech and gear.

Do you believe in God?

I grew up as a devout Roman Catholic but over the years I was never presented with any evidence of the existence of a god. I appreciate the values I was taught and respect peoples’ beliefs.

If you could have dinner with any person, dead or alive, who would it be?

Anthony Bourdain’s ‘Kitchen Confidential’ was one of the reasons I fell in love with the culinary industry, plus he’d get us a reservation somewhere fancy in a pinch.

What’s your worst habit?

Mansplaining, apparently.

What are you like when you’re drunk?

Lately I’ve only been getting properly drunk over long dinners or at weddings so it’s usually a combination of being friendly, chatty and uncomfortably full.

Who would you have play you in a film?

A combination of James Franco and Ed Byrne.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Racial and sexual intolerance.

What music would you have played at your funeral?

The Beatles or something similarly upbeat.

What is your most treasured material possession?

Bought a chef’s knife when I got my last job in London, it’s hanging in my kitchen as we speak and gets used on an almost daily basis.

What is your earliest memory?

Building a fort out of cardboard boxes when I was a child as we were moving house.

When did you last cry, and why?

I was ill over the holiday season and couldn’t make it to family lunch on Christmas day. Got a little emotional because I missed the opportunity to spend time with all of my family. Also Dominos rejected my order because they were too busy. That one hurt.

Who would you most like to meet?

Dave Grohl. I wouldn’t be able to produce coherent sentences but he seems like the kind of guy who would be incredibly cool about it.

What’s your favourite food?

Mezze, tapas, anything involving lots of small plates of lots of delicious things I can share with good people.

Who’s your favourite person on social media right now?

Alex Dilling was my chef and mentor during my time in London; he’s since taken on the role of executive chef at The Greenhouse and his Instagram profile is flooded with all of his incredible work. Shout out to @adills1.

If you could travel in time, where would you go?

I think it would be interesting to go back a hundred years and see what Malta was like and to get a chance to meet my distant relatives.

What book are you reading right now?

Actually listen to audiobooks more than I do actual reading and that would be Waking Up by Sam Harris. Also picked up The Whole Fish Cookbook by Josh Niland recently and it has been a continuous source of inspiration on how to utilize and prepare fish. This man has seriously changed the game.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

The ability to pause time, and subsequently the amount of extra naps I could take.

What’s one thing you want to do before you die?

Retire on a farm and live off what I grow and raise.

What music are you listening to at the moment?

Been going through a Wu-Tang Clan phase over the past week of social distancing but most of the time I’m at the mercy of what Spotify’s figured out I should listen to.

In the shower or when you’re working out, what do you sing/listen to?

Not much of a shower singer but I love listening to Run the Jewels while working out as well as the voices in my head asking me to please stop before I hurt myself.