Denis Dello Stritto
Title: Sous Chef, Culina, Modern Italian
Quote: “I am Italian. I became a chef out of passion, not just for a job.”
Four Seasons Tenure: Since 2015; First Four Seasons Assignment: Current
Employment History: Il Grano Ristorante, Los Angeles; Dolce Vita Restaurant Beach Club, Forianópolis, Santa Catarina, Brazil; La Coluccia, Sardegna, Italy; Delphinia Hotels & Resorts, Sardegna, Italy; Ristorante Segugio, Amsterdam; Ristorante Sorrento, Wigan, England; Sucre Restaurant, Amsterdam; Motor Village Fiat, Paris; Ristorante da Laura, Utrecht; MSC Cruises, Mediterranean Season, Europe; Hotel Gritti Palace, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Venice italy; Le Méridien, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Cagliari Sardegna, Italy; Hotel du Golf and Spa, Crans Montana Geneva; Hotel Valbruna 4, Gabicce Mare, Italy; Aeneas Landing, Gaeta, Italy; Carpe Diem Restaurant, Piana di monte verna , Caserta, Italy
Birthplace: Caiazzo, Italy
Education: Ipassar “A. Celletti” Formia, Italy
Languages: Italian, English, Spanish, some Portuguese
Denis Dello Stritto is nothing if not passionate about authentic Italian cuisine and the traditions from which it evolved. As Sous Chef of Culina, Modern Italian, at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, he puts that passion and respect for tradition into every dish on the menu.
The roots of Dello Stritto’s culinary ardor were planted during his childhood in a small farming village north of Naples, Italy. The village, Caiazzo, has historically been famed for the quality of its olives and more, and nearly everyone is engaged in food production. “The smell, the taste, and the honest culture were part of my upbringing,” he says. “Simplicity and respect for the ingredients is what I need to give guests the essence of my land.”
Pursuit of quality product is a big priority for Dello Stritto, who personally combs farmers markets and fish markets throughout L.A. for the best ingredients from local purveyors. “As for the rest,” he says, reeling off Italian olive oil, cheeses, cured meats and more, “I work my connections. The same product from here or overseas can be the same price but of totally different quality. For the best, you need the right connections.”
Indeed. Dello Stritto occasionally finishes days at Culina by heading straight to the airport to check incoming product. “I trust people,” he says with a laugh, “but sometimes I have to go personally.” He tells a tale of procuring the main ingredient for a Five-Course White Truffle Dinner offered by Culina. “I was in constant contact with the supplier – back and forth, back and forth,” he recalls. When they finally met at the airport, Dello Stritto was the first chef in line. “He opened the box and I saw the most beautiful truffle.” It weighed 19 ounces. “I bought it.” And dinner, with paired wines, was served.
While the significance of such ingredients can’t be minimized, Dello Stritto says it can be quantified: “60 percent of what makes a professional Italian chef is the chef, and 40 percent is the quality of the product.”
Dello Stritto’s family has always been passionate about food. Three generations on his mother’s side were butchers, and he learned much from his father. His mother and grandmother spent the better part of days preparing family meals. “I grew up giving part of my life to the food, just like they did,” he says. “The cuisine of the region has a lot of sauces and takes ample preparation. I remember pots steaming on the stove for two days. My grandmother was always telling me, ‘Try this! Try this!’”
First hired into a catering operation at age 17, Dello Stritto spent five years working his way up in hotel kitchens across Europe, the majority of them in Italy, and mostly through short, seasonal stays. His CV listed 16 employers by the time he became Head Chef at a beach club in Brazil. “If you grow up as a chef in Italy, you move with the seasons,” he explains. “It’s very challenging, yet you grow very fast through powerful experiences.” He arrived in L.A. in early 2014 as Head Chef for a family-owned, fine-dining restaurant group.
Dello Stritto likes many of the Italian offerings he finds across the city, though occasionally is disappointed by “Italian-American” dishes created from “not bad but not wonderful” ingredients. “They miss the big thing: the soul and the passion of traditional Italian cuisine,” he says. “At Culina, we’re serving traditional Italian dishes with modern touches and respect for quality. With a little coaching, our customers understand the difference in the burrata I bring from Puglia. I am very passionate about product.”
What percentage is passion for the Italian chef, then? Dello Stritto laughs: “Passion is 120%!”
Now at Culina, Dello Stritto oversees new talent in the kitchen and fashions the menu. Just as important, he says, is the role he plays in communicating with clientele, reassuring them of the quality of their experience as well as of the food on their plates. Anything they want, all they have to do is ask: “In a restaurant like this, it is important to let people know that there is someone taking care of them. ‘I am the chef, what can I do for you? Food allergies? Don’t worry, madam, we are here. Enjoy your time at Culina.’”
Dello Stritto’s dream, he concludes, is for a restaurant where people don’t even need to see the menu. “Instead they just feel a connection.”