6 Questions with Zach Pollack

You went to Italy to study to be an architect. Fast forward: you’re an acclaimed chef known for your Italian fare. How did that happen?

The switch from architecture to cooking was more seamless than you might think. They’re both creative fields, but they also require a lot of left brain thinking, a lot of rules, and a lot of boundaries. I’ve found I need boundaries to be creative.

You have two acclaimed restaurants in LA. Is one more Italian than the other?

Alimento is more of a creative outlet where I can put whatever is inspiring me on the plate. Living in LA, it’s hard to not be inspired by the many cultures that call this city home, and that’s reflected on the menu. There’s usually an Italian bent to the dishes, but it’s not a strictly Italian restaurant. Cosa Buona’s mission is to be the best neighborhood pizzeria we can be, and serve it all up with easy-drinking wine and warm hospitality.

You spent a chunk of your 20s cooking in Italy. Any fond memories?

One time the chef’s sister—a woman in her 70s who was the restaurant’s dishwasher—insisted on serving me her food, cucina casalinga (meaning not the fancy stuff I was making at the restaurant). After a long shift, we biked back to her house, riding through a night haze thick with pig shit (that’s how you know you’re in the Po Valley). She proceeded to hand-roll half a dozen different pastas, each sauced and served differently. We washed it down with an unlabeled bottle of wine made from her neighbor’s vines and ended things with a crostata of plums from the little tree in her yard. It was one of those unicorn eating experiences you can spend a life chasing and never find. Then there was the time I chopped off a piece of my thumb and the guy who offered to drive me to the hospital totaled his Fiat after stopping for cigarettes, as I bled out in his car.

What are three things that inspire you to create?

Reading cookbooks, eating food cooked by someone else, and traveling.

This isn’t your first trip to Sicily. What’s exciting about this time?

It’s one of my favorite regions in Italy, but because of its size and location, it can be hard to work it into a trip to the mainland. As a result, I haven’t been there in more than 10 years. And while I love the entire island, the southeastern part where this trip is focused holds a special place in my heart, both because it’s where I worked, and because it’s simply the best (but don’t tell a Palermitano that!).

What is your most treasured possession?

In the kitchen, probably my Takeda knife collection. They’re the best knives I’ve ever used—and I’ve used a few. Outside the kitchen, my Tonal exercise machine. I wish that were a sponsorship, but it isn’t, sadly.