For the third of our columns offering thinly disguised and often unwanted careers advice we met with Chicago Deep Pizza Chef Rob, one part of the ownership team at Masa of Echo Park , the Los Angeles bakery and restaurant a pizza frisbee toss away from Dodgers Stadium on Sunset Blvd.
With its idiosyncratic interior, eclectic decor, great and friendly staff and fantastic food, Masa is a long time neighborhood favorite in Echo Park. And way beyond. It's true we've had some very special moments there. Masa was the first restaurant we took our little baby O to; and the last restaurant we ate at prior to being stationed/marooned/exiled in the UK. There's nothing like Masa here. The there's probably nothing quite like Masa anywhere. Whether it's Chicago Deep Dish for dinner or a slice of Grandma Dorothy's Carrot Cake (OMG!) just because you're passing by in the afternoon, Masa is a very special place.
Rob and Rhonda created Masa a few years ago, with that insouciant, "yeah we know we're cool so now can we just get some lovely food and drinks going on vibe." You can't manufacture it, it just happens, and when it does, it's a delicious thing that draws you back again and again.
Whether you find out about Masa from your TV, or from a next door neighbor, whether you can or cannot handle an entire Masa Chicago Deep Dish Pizza - there's plenty of other great items on the menu if you don't need to eat for a week at once - Masa is a remarkable place and a testimony to Pizza Chef Rob and his ambition to provide Authentic Chicago Deep Dish Pizza to the people of Los Angeles.
How did you get into this line of business?
Starting at the tender age of 14, I was told if I wanted any money to buy anything, I'd need to get a job. My first job, was as a cook in a fried chicken restaurant, my second job was at a pizza place, and so the journey began! After 20 years of working in restaurants, my wife and I finally decided it was time to open our own. We found the space down the street from our house, and lo and behold it had the same oven we had in Chicago. It was then that I knew that we could do Deep-Dish pizza here in LA.
How long is your typical working day?
On average, I'd say its at least a 12 hour day. Some days more, some days less. But is it really a working day if you don't consider it work? We've been open for 10 years, and I can't think of one time when I felt like I didn't want to come to "work". I guess that's the difference between owning your own place and working for someone else.
Do you have a favorite aspect of your work?
I love the puzzle. Everyday is different. When the mishap arrives, you never know how you're going to solve it. You always have to piece things together to make them work. When there's no more room in the oven and you have a line of tickets still in need of being made, you have to figure things out so the guests are happy. I tell everybody who works for me, we can't give excuses! There isn't one excuse we can give to somebody paying money for food, that will make them say, "Oh that's alright". They'll be pissed off. I will always take the blame for everything in the restaurant.
What's the best/go to piece of equipment you enjoy using?
When it comes down to it, the only tool that is absolutely essential, is a good knife. Cheap knives and dull knives drive me crazy. But a good sharp knife is all you need. My favorite knife is a Henckels Professional, its German technology and Japanese metal. The best of both worlds. It makes prep work easy!!!
Who are your favorite type of clients?
I like real people who appreciate being taken care of. Not the wannabes who think they should be treated better than everyone else. No VIP's in my restaurant. Everyone is treated equally!! But treated really well.
Can you anonymously relate any horror stories without going out of business or upsetting your paranoid client list?
There was one time when a group of ladies were late for their reservation because one of them was "On Set All Day". When they arrived they had to wait an extra 20 minutes, and they were irate. I tried to talk to them, but all they could do was yell obscenities at me in the dining room. I finally asked them politely to leave, and the "On Set" woman proceeded to throw a glass at me. I was more scared for the table behind me, I didn't want them to get hit. That's about the worst of it though, and if that's it in 10 years, that's not to bad.
What are you best known for professionally?
I don't think I'm known for much. My name is not above the title. I'm not a celebrity chef nor do I want to be one. I like staying as anonymous as possible. The name Masa is much more important than my name.
Thinking about working from home it's such a trend. If you had to set up in my house, could you do it? What would the neighbours think?
Are you zoned to have the ability to sell pizza and beer in your house? If the answer is yes, we could probably work something out. We may need to retool your kitchen a tad bit and put in a bigger oven, but we could work that out. Would you be okay with the lines of people waiting for food and needing to use your bathroom?
Why would you say "Every man needs their own Chicago Pizza Chef?"
They Don't!!!! They can go to the market and buy a frozen version of Deep-Dish. Its horrible, but you can buy it. If you want the real thing, you're going to have to come to me. Or go to any of the other reputable purveyors of Chicago Pizza.
*Knowing me and my chicago pizza needs as you do. Can you even give me any idea of the annual/monthly/daily/hourly cost of having my own in house chicago pizza Chef?
If you want to hire me, it will cost you, Big Time!!! My rate is 250,000 Drachma/Day. Cash Money!!!!
Masa of Echo Park is at 1800 W. Sunset Bvd, online at www.masaofechopark.com. Phone 213989 1558 for a reservation. Open Daily 'til 11, later on the weekends. Lovely brunch and good parking at the rear.
*optional but we will/would like to answer for you if you cannot.