Justin Miller is executive chef of Pizzeria Ortica in Costa Mesa. Miller, born and raised in Orange County, describes his approach to cooking as "relaxed," a good fit for the rustic Italian cuisine at David Myers’ restaurant, centered on a wood-burning oven. Miller once served as chef of a cruise ship that led professional surfers from San Diego to Panama in search of the best waves. He’s also cooked at Mastro’s Steakhouse in Santa Ana and Dolce in Newport Beach. At Ortica, he started as a line cook, within a year was promoted to chef de cuisine and now helms the kitchen. In his time off? Besides being an avid outdoorsman, he’s also a home brewer.
What’s coming up on your menu? Spring stuff. I love spring. I feel like a bear coming out of hibernation, and my belly shows it. Peas, ramps, favas, onions and stone fruits later — all my favorite things. I’m also going to try out zampone, sausage-stuffed pig’s trotters, and serve it with some of spring’s bounty.
Latest ingredient obsession? This week I have been using a lot of green garlic. It’s less spicy, a bit oniony and lighter in garlic flavor. I have been charring it, puréeing it and using it chopped on pizzas.
What restaurant do you find your self going to again and again? On my day off, I love to eat Mexican food. El Toro Bravo on 19th Street in Costa Mesa is usually my go-to lunch spot. It’s a corn tortilla factory that has a grocery store and taco stand. It’s been around forever, and you can tell by the equipment they use. I grew up eating their carnitas and soft, freshly made corn tortillas. If I’m not at El Toro Bravo, you’ll find me eating bread. We have the best French bakery called C’est Si Bon on Riverside [Avenue] in Newport Beach. They have the best baguettes and croissants in town. I’m there at least once a week to get a turkey and avocado sandwich on a baguette. Sometimes after the bars I’ll try to catch them at 2 a.m. making fresh baked goods, and if I’m lucky, they’ll slip me a warm pastry out the back door.
The one piece of kitchen equipment you can’t live without, other than your knives? Microplane — I use it every day for cheese, garlic, nutmeg, you name it.
Favorite kitchen soundtrack? Bon Iver, “For Emma Forever Ago.” I love to hippie out and listen to this masterpiece of an album. It’s a bit old now, but it never gets old to me. It calms me while I’m making pasta. Our pasta prep station is in the back, so I love the bussers’ reaction to my music when they come back to clean the dishware. They always ask me questions, like, “Where is the beat?” or “Why are you depressed?” I just smile and continue to enjoy myself. Bon Iver is definitely good medicine for the brain in times of stress.
Pizzeria Ortica, 650 Anton Blvd., Costa Mesa, (714) 445-4900, www.pizzeriaortica.com.
This story was reported by Betty Hallock.