Award-winning chef Diana Stavaridis of Manhattan House may now be serving up some upscale, farm-to-table fare, but her story began more humbly than that — in her grandparents’ house at 6-years-old, harvesting tomatoes from their backyard and cleaning up lobsters in their kitchen. Growing up, she had stints in a deli, pizzeria, bakery, Cuban restaurant, and even an ice cream truck.
Since then, she graduated from culinary school and worked with celebrated Los Angeles chefs, including Neal Fraser, who promoted her to sous chef when he opened BLD Restaurant in 2006. While known for her masterful vegetarian and vegan flair (Did someone say vegan benedict with house-smoked tofu bacon and a vegan chickpea burger with japaleño cashew cheese?), what else makes this Rising Star Chef of Los Angeles and guest judge of the “The Next Food Network Star” tick?
Read to see what Stavaridis had to say when we asked her six, quick questions.
The Quick Six
Foodable: What’s the first meal (that you can recall) that changed your life?
Diana Stavaridis: When I was a kid, my grandpa and I would go down to the docks in Rockport, Mass., a spot notorious for having the best lobster. After our day at the docks, we took our catches home, where my grandpa taught me how to cook and clean the lobster, while my grandma taught me how to make her famous heirloom tomato and corn salad. I knew from that moment forward that cooking is what I was meant to do.
Foodable: Who is one person that you would love to cook for (that you haven’t already)?
DS: Definitely Alice Waters. Her passion and dedication for farming and the importance of equality of the fruits and veggies you serve has been such an influence in my style of cooking.
Foodable: Who is your culinary mentor?
DS: Neal Fraser of BLD restaurant. He is the first chef I worked for, and he really taught me how to be fearless with creation and trusting your talents.
Foodable: Where is your favorite restaurant to eat at when you aren’t working?
DS: Hide Sushi in West LA. They have the absolute best Monk Fish Liver Roll. It’s like heaven wrapped in seaweed.
Foodable: One ingredient you could not live without?
DS: Lemon. It's the perfect acid for almost everything. I also love cooking with heat, so lemon is always a great way to balance that.
Foodable: What's the most important lesson you learned (good or bad) in your first year of owning a restaurant?
DS: Honestly, as cliché as it sounds, the most important thing I have learned so far is to take a chance on yourself. It really does pay off to invest in your dreams because they do come true.