Chef Steven Lona a native of Southern California grew up watching old school Iron Chef episodes and spent years with his grandmother cooking in the kitchen before he decided to ultimately pursue the culinary trade. With schooling and years of working in the kitchen from Marche Moderne in Costa Mesa to Studio at the Montage in Laguna Beach, he’s landed himself at Bistro 45, a 21 year old French eatery in Pasadena, CA. We sat down with chef and discussed growing up in Southern California, his approach with food and advice to those thinking about making cooking a career.
Even though the announcement of Steven becoming the head chef at Bistro 45 has been recent, for the past year he’s quietly transformed the previous menu with his own twist. “When you have a restaurant that’s been here for this long, it’s important to quietly transition, there are a lot of clientele that’s been coming here for a long time. I wanted to make sure they are all comfortable with the way the foods were changing,” Steven tells us.
Steve is convincingly comfortable with his changes noting “the transition is important to not scare anyone away. As we progress we’re welcoming them to the new era of the restaurant.” He grew up in a diverse area of Los Angeles. Having an open mind with food, he’s able to add a certain twist to it. Steve described the previous menu as “old world French.”
The current menu features dishes like: Roasted Beet Salad with honey yogurt, caramelized oats, mint gelee and cocoa, Pitman Family Farm Duck “Cassoulet” made with duck breast, leg and sausage, stew of heirloom beans and bacon with dried tomatoes, fried bread and mustard creme.
Steven tells us he likes to take classical French foundations and play with the influences in the Southern California area to open up the play book a little bit, to “re-awaken people’s senses to something that’s always been there.” His whole idea is to reinvigorate the classical French preparation.
Eating out brings out good memories for Steven, “when I was young we didn’t go out to eat. We didn’t have much money. We ate a lot of McDonald’s and Taco Bell. As my parents careers’ grew and the money came, I started to eat out more.”
Watching Iron Chef on TV was like watching superheros for young Steven, he says, “I was a big comic book fan, and it was kind of transcendent that these super chefs never lost.”
In the restaurant world, repetition is part of the business, “you’re going to do a lot of the same things over and over again.” Steven advised for people wanting to get in the industry to first step in a kitchen and observe how it’s done. “A lot of people start [culinary] school and don’t finish because they find it to be a much different animal than they expect.”
Working in the kitchen is hard work but satisfying, Steven assured us. “We come in get here 9 in the morning. You have about two and a half hours to get ready for service. Everyone is running around, but we just have to make sure everyone is running around in the right direction. Service starts, it gets crazy for a couple of hours, and you see a lot of happy people leave.”
As for culinary school, “It was crucial part of my experiences but I don’t necessary think it has to be the same for everyone else.”