When Lou Ortiz moved from Denver to take a job with Dogfish Head, he was coming home in more ways than one. Born in Delaware, he is a Glasgow High School graduate. The chef was also returning to the mid-Atlantic brewing scene. He previously worked for Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant and Victory Brewing Company.
A graduate of the University of Delaware’s hotel, restaurant and institutional management program, he now oversees the kitchens in both Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats in downtown Rehoboth and Dogfish Head’s neighboring restaurant, Chesapeake & Maine.
Ortiz, who spent five years in the U.S. Marines, can stand the kitchens’ heat. “I’ve always been one of those people who finds comfort in stressful situations,” he says. “Chaos in the kitchen calms me down.”
We talked to Ortiz about his new role at two of the beaches’ most popular restaurants. (The answers below have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.)
My family breathes hospitality. If they know that company is coming over, they pull out every stop to make them feel welcome. My mother used to take crab bodies, quarter them, and throw them into giant cast-iron pots covered with banana leaves over a wood fire. She added sofrito [a base sauce in Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Latin American cooking], herbs and spices, onions, peppers and tomatoes. She cooked it slowly and added water and rice. Every bite tasted like crab.
When I was in high school, I had one-off jobs. When I came home from the military, I got into restaurants again. They type of people you find in the kitchen are very similar to the type of people you find in the military. I ran Peace A Pizza for most of my college career.
The first chef who gave me valuable advice was from Iron Hill—Mike Petrilla, who now works for Two Stones Pub. He told me if you are going to move around, make sure you’re working for someone relevant, who can teach you something or has a bunch of locations or is doing something special. When I went to Colorado, I did just that. If I opened up a magazine and saw a name, I knocked on the restaurant’s door and asked for a job even if they weren’t hiring. [He worked for Troy Guard, owner of the TAG restaurant group, and James Beard-nominated author and chef Deborah Schneider.]
In Colorado, nobody knows geographically where Delaware is. They thought it was near Rhode Island. People don’t know geography, but they know beer. So, I would say Delaware is where Dogfish Head comes from, and they’d say, “Got it.” When I found out Dogfish Head was looking for someone who could do would I do, and I was saying Dogfish Head was indirectly where I came from, it made coming home feel even more like coming home.
My style is fluid. I have been exposed to so many concepts. Because I’m such a beer enthusiast, I know how to build dishes that will complement what the company is trying to accomplish. All the tacos are new. All of them have a great pairing or have a beer incorporated in them. My biggest fascination is any ingredient that brewer Bryan Selders is bringing in. I know the ingredients from my realm. I don’t know them from his. I don’t want to just take a beer and pour it into a dish. Could I take the raw ingredients that he uses and incorporate them?
I drink Dogfish Head at every restaurant that I eat at. Anywhere along the highway, people can enjoy Dogfish Head at their meal. So, what can I do in our restaurants to make the experience different? The team is embracing that challenge.