Name: Steven Acosta
Title: Executive chef
Location: da Campo Osteria, 3333 NE 32nd Ave., Fort Lauderdale; 954-226-5002, daCampoRestaurant.com
Time at this location: 1 year
Style of food prepared: Traditional Northern Italian with contemporary twist
Background: Acosta grew up in Hialeah, where his grandmother urged him to learn his way around the house so he would become independent.
"As she started to teach me basic dishes in the kitchen, my passion for food erupted," he says. "It was amazing for us to start at the flea market in Hialeah with the weekend produce and turn it into a special meal right before my eyes, and when I saw my family's expression with their first bite, I was hooked."
After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Miami, Acosta did stints at Two Chefs, Turnberry Isle Resort and Vix at Hotel Victor. In 2008, he joined Todd English as executive sous chef to open da Campo Osteria overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway in a contemporary setting. But he left a year later to open the W South Beach hotel as executive sous chef.
"Now I'm back at da Campo as head of the kitchen, a testament of hard work, dedication and sacrifice," says Acosta, who describes his style as contemporary New American with a Latin touch. "I have plenty of career goals that include winning a James Beard Award, owning my own restaurant or being in charge of a large luxury hotel with multiple outlets. Right now, though, it's to put da Campo Osteria on the map as being one of the consistently best Italian restaurants."
Q: How do you stand out among the plethora of Italian restaurants?
A: To start, the beautiful waterfront atmosphere is particularly stunning at sunset. We pride ourselves in tableside hand-pulled mozzarella that is incomparable to other restaurants in South Florida ... I also try to stay away from the American-Italian food. Not many of the Italian restaurants here stay true/contemporary to its cuisine and how they would approach it in Italy. I am Hispanic and there is not a drop of Italian in me, but I can assure any Italian eating at our restaurant can appreciate what we do here.
Q: What are your favorite dishes on the menu?
A: Spaghetti and jumbo meatball ($26) because of its simplicity, and braised veal cheeks ($36) remind me of the oxtail my grandma use to make ... Giving my own twist to traditional dishes is always fun, such as stuffing our cannelloni with suckling pig that cooked in its own fat for about six hours and garnishing with ricotta di pecora (sheep's milk) vs. regular ricotta cheese ($29).
Q: What are you passionate about?
A: Besides my three boys (ages 2 to 10), I have three Fs in my life: food, family and football.
Q: If you weren't a chef, what would you be doing?
A: Working for one of the alphabet boys — CIA, DEA, FBI, etc.
Q: Name an ingredient you feel is underappreciated.
A: A really, really good olive oil. A bunch of chefs/cooks are breaking their heads in creating a magical sauce for their dish when they're probably better off finishing it with a drizzle of olive oil. Respect the integrity of the product!
Q: How can more vitality be brought to the Fort Lauderdale dining scene?
A: First, understanding the needs of our demographic area. Second, more of a variety of different types of cuisine. Third, Las Olas probably has most of our culinary nightlife. We need to expand that vibe/location throughout the area. For example, Miami has Brickell, downtown, Lincoln Road, Ocean Drive and Collins.