Originally, Lota comes from the small coastal town of Menfi, Sicily. Growing up in Italy, he was born into authentic Mediterranean dishes crafted by his mother and grandmother. His childhood was spent pressing the family’s own olives they harvested, filling up buckets of fresh sheep’s milk ricotta at neighborhood farms, and finding fresh-caught fish at local ports.
He entered his epicurean career at the Four Seasons in Milan working for renowned chef Sergio Mei. At age 22, he ventured out to California, landing a job in Santa Barbara at the Biltmore Four Seasons before moving to San Diego. During his time cooking at The Marine Room in La Jolla, he gained more of an understanding of global fusion cooking.
In 2012, he and his wife, Corinne, opened a pop-up restaurant called Limone where they got to enjoy the freedom of their creative culinary decisions. Six months later, Lota became the executive chef at Solare, returning to his Italian roots.
Fast forward to 2017, and Lota now has one of the top, most coveted culinary careers in the business. After being selected as one of two chefs from the United States, Lota recently won first place at the Barilla World Pasta Championship in Italy last month.
“The competitors were from all over the world, very experienced… Michelin-starred chefs,” Lota said. However, what he found even more interesting was that the “spirit of the competition was very nice. We became friends. The [other chefs] were very supportive, and we shared recipes, it was very, very cool.”
Lota says he focuses on keeping his dishes authentic to Italian tradition, but enjoys experimenting with new pairings that are interesting and different, giving a fresh take. While he still gets some of his key ingredients like “tomatoes, oregano, and special vinegars from Italy,” he also grows some of his own produce in a “small 50 by 50 foot farm in Point Loma.
“Here, we grow things like long zucchini squash, basil and different types of herbs. We like to grow it to a special point,” he says. “The fish is fresh. It comes from the water in San Diego and sometimes Baja.”
Finding a home at Solare in Liberty Station, the chef has been accredited with copious awards and recognitions before and after winning the World Pasta Championship title. He resides in San Diego with his wife, Corinne, and two children, Lorenzo and Alessandro.
When asked if he still finds time to play the drums, Lota says “Eh, I won’t say that I don’t play [the drums], it is a passion, but now I am just so busy with cooking, family, kids.” Lota says that “food for [him] is one of the most important things in life.”
Solare Ristorante and Lounge
Where: 2820 Roosevelt Road, Liberty Station