'Chef Steff' prepares for national debut on Food Network
"Chef Steff" keeps coming up with new recipes to boost his business, always making sure they are cooked with his personal touch.
Starting with a pizza shop in Blawnox, the man also known as Stefano Tedeschi currently markets sauces, vinegars and oils nationally, has a weekly radio show and a Web site. Now his story will be told on the "Food Finds" show on cable TV's Food Network.
"This will be my national debut," Tedeschi says during a break in the filming. "I've been using the Web site, but this will really get the name out there."
Producer Chris Barrett is happy. "This is going well," he says, as he and his camera crew shift from the kitchen to an area around the brick oven in the front of Stefano's Ristorante in Fox Chapel Plaza. "A lot of people can make good food, but not everybody can talk about it."
Chef Steff can talk about it. At the filming Wednesday morning, he talks about his sauces — the centerpiece of his business — and the secrets and benefits of Italian food.
"Italian food has a lot of medicinal purposes," he says as he makes a pizza, adding, "Chef Steff knows."
The segment on the Food Network will be broadcast early in 2003, says Jennifer Gribbon, owner of Homerun Entertainment, the Los Angeles firm that puts together the programs. She says Tedeschi's segment fits well into the aim of "Food Finds," which tries to find "mom-and-pop shops that make specialty foods."
Those products have to be available nationwide by telephone or Web site, she says, a category into which Tedeschi fits with his computer marketplace, www.chefsteff.com. "This is part of the Italian gourmet expansion," she adds.
It's part of Tedeschi's expansion, too.
In 1989, he and partner William Acker, from Churchill, found that the sales of the sauces they were using were giving their pizza shop a popularity others didn't enjoy.
"We thought we had something, so we opened this restaurant as a hub for our product," Tedeschi says of the 200-seat multiroom site. "We did it sort of the other way than most people do."
He says he also wanted to "create the character for Chef Steff" — something that producer Barrett, who has done 20 to 30 similar shows, believes Tedeschi has done. In that regard, the chef says, he got the idea of doing a TV show in which celebrities would come in and talk about food, eventually cooking something.
Working with Charles D. Zvirman, president of the Strip District's New Perspective production company, they put together what they saw as the pilot for the show. Loosely called "The Good Fella Gourmet," the show featured Steven R. Schirripa from HBO's "The Sopranos" series.
Tedeschi and Zvirman sent it to the Food Network. "And they said, 'Well, we may not be interested in that, but we might use you on 'Food Finds,'" Tedeschi says.
The restaurant owner also sees it as a way to interest other media outlets in the Chef Steff character. He says he would like to do something on television similar to what he does on his weekly show on WBZZ (93.7 FM), during which he picks out the high points at area restaurants.
"There is some discussion going on right now," the chef says, keeping matters vague. "So we'll see."
The "Food Finds" filming is a busy start of the business day. Cameraman Scott Ripper, from McCandless, and his brother, sound technician Chris Ripper, from Ross, scramble around the kitchen and the front of the restaurant, trying to capture various sides of Tedeschi's work.
Barrett feeds the chef questions, leading him through talks about his sauces and what he calls the "classic lightness" of his pizza.
The filming area is filled by the crew, staffers such as manager Jim Henning, partners Acker and Marc Rasschaert and Tedeschi's wife, Lynn.
Tedeschi rolls though a variety of chef-atypical actions, including one that goes to the start of his professional career: making pizza.
He seems to look at his career as he does spinning a crust. "You have to toss it around like someone you love," he says.