2/13/2013 05:18:00 PM

Chef Chat: Steve Kozak of Sycamore

Under Sam Jacobson, Sycamore gained critical acclaim and notched a 28 for food in our Survey. However, at the end of last year, Jacobson decided to step down in search of something new. Steve Kozak took his place and is now overseeing the small kitchen. We reached out to the new chef to find out his story and hear what he has planned for the Lansdowne BYO.

Zagat: How did you land this position?
Steve Kozak: It was pretty serendipitous. A friend’s sister had a wedding rehearsal dinner at Sycamore, and she heard they were looking for a new chef since Sam was resigning. My friend knew I was looking to leave Azie on Main, so I went in for an interview.

I spent around three and a half hours with owner Stephen Wagner, cooking and talking. Then he hired me. It was a good fit - I grew up in this area, and I love the revitalization that’s happening here, which the Wagners have been a big part of.

Zagat: What’s the difference between running the kitchen at the two spots?
SK: Sycamore is tiny in comparison - the dining room there is about the same size of the kitchen at Azie - but that has benefits. In Villanova, there were at least four cooks on the line, seven on the weekends, in addition to three sushi chefs.

It was very intense, both because we were cooking for 160 seats, but also because the cuisine was “world cuisine with Japanese flavor” and was just all over the place. In Lansdowne I’ll get to focus a bit more. Even though there’s only two other cooks in the kitchen with me.

Zagat: Tell us about the food you have planned for Sycamore, will it change?
SK: I kept Sam’s menu for a while when I first came in, just to get a feel for the clientele and the staff, but I do have some new things planned. We’ll still be a New American, but I’m going to start infusing some French and Spanish techniques and flavors, maybe some curries and paprikas.

It’s just such an honor and a privilege to be in this profession - I started by working in a deli, then I moved up to butcher, and then I went to culinary school and now I get to run whole restaurants! I’m really fortunate to be doing something I’m so passionate about.

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