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Grow. Cook. Drink.: Derek Stevens of Eleven

Derek Stevens has trained a corps of Pittsburgh’s top chefs and shaped the menu at Eleven Contemporary Kitchen.





Photo by Laura Petrilla

 

If you like dining out in Pittsburgh, you should thank Derek Stevens. The executive chef at Eleven Contemporary Kitchen in the Strip District has spent the better part of his career acting as the city’s informal culinary finishing-school headmaster. Justin Severino (of Cure), Eli Wahl (of Casbah) and Chad Townsend (of Millie’s Homemade Ice Cream) are just a few of Pittsburgh’s acclaimed chefs whom Stevens trained in his kitchen.

“He creates a foundation for the way that he wants things done. And then he gives you space to mess up and figure it out on your own. But all the while, he’s really guiding you,” says Townsend.

Stevens, 40, started working in professional kitchens as a teenager and attended a vocational high-school culinary program. “I could get out of school for half a day and work in a kitchen. Sounded great to me,” he says.

From there it was on to training at the esteemed Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. He returned to Pittsburgh to work at several notable restaurants, including the Duquesne Club, Restaurant Nina and Hyeholde, but a thirst for adventure (and better weather) took him west. In northern California, he worked for Bradley Ogden and at the CIA’s Napa outpost.

As it has done with many natives, Pittsburgh eventually drew Stevens back. “I came back here with no money and no place to go,” he says. He got a job working at Casbah in 1999 as a line cook, but (in no small part because of his training) was the restaurant’s executive chef in less than a year. Still, he wasn’t quite ready to settle down, and he left that position after about two years.

He couldn’t stay away from the big Burrito Restaurant Group forever. “Bill [Fuller, big Burrito corporate chef,] called and said that they were opening this new restaurant in the Strip,” Stevens says. Eleven opened in 2004 with Stevens as sous chef. He’s one of two original employees still working at the restaurant.

Stevens says that in his early years he micromanaged his kitchen brigade and was pretty quick-tempered. Now, he says, “I like to think I’m a little more laid-back. I want my team to contribute to what they do.”
That doesn’t mean his eye for nurturing talent is any less demanding.

“You can teach people how to dice an onion, but you can’t teach them how to care about what the onion looks like when they’re done dicing it,” he says. “I want people who care about what they’re doing.”

No matter how much attention you’re getting, though, he says, “You still have to take out the garbage and clean the grease traps.”
 



 

Lamb Shoulder with Rhubarb and Shallot Mostarda

By Derek Stevens
 

Mostarda
 

  • 3 cups sliced rhubarb
  • 1½ cups buckwheat honey
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1 cup sliced shallots
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
  • ½ teaspoon dried lavender
  • ½ cup chopped fresh mint leaves
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

 

  1. Combine honey, vinegar, water and mustard seeds in a sauce pot.
  2. Bring to a boil.
  3. Add remaining ingredients except for mint; return to a boil.
  4. Remove from heat.
  5. Add the mint.
  6. Season with salt and pepper.

     

Roast

  • Boned, tied lamb shoulder roast, 3½-4 pounds
  • ¼ cup chopped garlic
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
  • Extra-virgin olive oil

 

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Season the roast liberally with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.
  3. Rub with garlic and rosemary.
  4. Rest at room temperature for 30-40 minutes.
  5. Place roast in the preheated oven and roast to an internal temperature of 135 degrees (approximately 1 hour).
  6. Remove from oven and rest for 20 minutes.
  7. Slice and serve with the mostarda.

 

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