by Rock ‘n Roll Ghost
Kevin Sousa has been hailed by many of Pittsburgh’s top food publications (Pittsburgh Magazine named him “Best Chef of 2011″) as well as receiving acclaim from both Food & Wine, the New York Times and the James Beard Foundation. He’s the owner of three restaurants (Salt of the Earth featuring room for 200 diners where Sousa does his most refined work, as well as Union Pig & Chicken, a “BBQ joint” and Station Street Hot Dogs) and he’s looked up to by the community as well as those who have worked with and for him over the years.
This Sunday, July 22nd, Sousa and his Chefs at Salt of the Earth will partner up with nomad Chef Brandon Baltzley of CRUX for a 12 course dinner with optional beverage pairings (see the full menu above and here) that Sousa has dubbed “balls completely out”. The idea for the dinner came up before Baltzley even made a beeline to Pittsburgh on the way to Portland, ME from Chicago, IL to specifically to eat at Sousa’s flagship restaurant.
Once he arrived in Portland, Baltzley and Sousa would e-mail and Skype back and forth when both had time (usually Sundays) about dish ideas, presentations and more, ultimately hashing out a final menu. That menu, along with other surprises, will be presented to a select group of 36 diners on Sunday (four tickets still remain as of this writing – call (412) 441–7258 for reservations).
Taking a break from his busy schedule, Chef Sousa was able to answer a few questions I sent his way via e-mail. Below are his responses.
Rock ‘n Roll Ghost: What was your introduction to Brandon Baltzley and CRUX?
Kevin Sousa: I’m not exactly sure how Brandon and I began our relationship. I want to say that he contacted me through Twitter.
Why do you think that you and he hit it off so well?
Kevin Sousa: I think that Brandon and I have similar sensibilities when it comes to food and culture. We have some parallels in our personal lives as well. Brandon is sincerely excitable and passionate about all things and that is a quality that is difficult to come by.
What made you want to partner with CRUX for the July 22nd dinner?
Kevin Sousa: I wasn’t sure what I would be in for. It seemed like these guys did not set any limits for themselves at all which is an ethos that I respect and to some degree attempt to live by.
Has it been difficult to plan the menu via phone/internet?
Kevin Sousa: I would be lying if I said that planning a collaborative menu via phone and email were easy. That being said, the reason why we are doing such a forward thinking menu to begin with is because I think that we would both agree that our cooking styles complement each other without mirroring each other. The menu has come together nicely and I am very excited to execute it.
In your opinion, what sets you apart from what other chefs are doing (whether that’s specific to Pittsburgh or nationally)?
For those readers that are not in the Pittsburgh area or haven’t already visited one of your restaurants, what can they expect at each location?
Kevin Sousa: All three of my restaurants are designed to take the snobbery out of a dining experience. At the hot dog shop (Station Street Hot Dogs) for instance there may be a few ingredients on the menu that aren’t easily recognizable to every guest. But the environment is so comfortable and nostalgic that people oftentimes forget that the place is just a hot dog shop, even if it is a hot dog shop serving duck fat fries, sweetbreads, softshell crabs, shad roe and pork liver pate. Union Pig & Chicken is simply a BBQ joint that has a beautiful small dining room and great service with the most consistently executed smoking program this side of the Mississippi.
What drives/motivates you?
Kevin Sousa: My motivation in all of this comes from my love of this city and its people and my love for my family. Pittsburgh is a small market town, an underdog. There are few things that I enjoy more than being the underdog. I would like nothing more than to continue to champion all things Pittsburgh namely the diverse food scene until the day I die.
In an age of everybody having a platform for spouting off, are you impervious to critiques? How do you handle critiques – whether they be the uninformed rant of a casual diner or the pointed ones of “experts”?
Kevin Sousa: You know as far as folks offering up their two cents, I’m all for it. But honestly, I don’t read too many of them anymore. I mean, of course, if we get reviewed in a respected forum, I give it a scan. The honest critique can be a great tool and I think that over the years I have learned much from people’s opinions. For whatever reason, in recent years I just find zero reason to bother myself with the never ending stream of online “reviews.” Whether it is because I am finally comfortable enough with myself that I just don’t care, I couldn’t say.
When you’re not working, what do you like to do in your spare time?
Kevin Sousa: When not at work I am outside with my family and dogs or riding my bicycle or sitting on a cushion staring at a wall.
What is a misconception about you that you’d like to perhaps set straight? If any.
Kevin Sousa: Many folks have implied that I am super competitive. I could care less what other people are doing. I am simply trying to do the best that I can with what I have.