Profile: Sapporo’s Executive Chef Stephen Stromberg
With all the recent changes made to the menu at Sapporo recently, we wanted to talk with the man behind the curtain, Executive Chef Stephen Stromberg, to see where his inspiration and ideas came from.
While Chef Stromberg was born in Omaha, NE, his culinary journey began with a move to Colorado at age 12.While attending Colorado State University, he met Chef Ken Moody who brought him on as an apprentice at Roosevelt’s at the Hotel Boulder. Through this experience he began to acquire technique, management skills and vast knowledge of several types of cuisine, ranging from Southwestern to Chinese.
Chef Stromberg accepted his first Executive Chef position at Dolan’s (a seafood restaurant) in Boulder, CO. He held this position up until he moved to Scottsdale in 1999, when he became the Executive Sous Chef at Roy’s. He followed that experience with Executive Chef positions at Latitude 30, Pure Sushi and Radio Milano. All of this experience has made him an expert in fusion cuisine and he brings all of that and so much more to his position with Sapporo.
Chef Stromberg was quoted as saying, “Sapporo’s diversity with teppanyaki, great sushi offerings, and a broad Pacific Rim menu provides an amazing platform from which to work. The unique styles and indigenous ingredients make creating traditional dishes fun and truly satisfying.”
We were thrilled to be able to talk with Chef Stromberg to get some information about his personal favorites, his insights and he even shared a recipe with us!
Taryn Jeffries: Where do you find or seek out inspiration when creating new dishes, whether for the restaurant or experimenting at home?
Chef Stephen Stromberg: Local Asian markets around town are always great inspirations for new ideas. I can go into Lei-Leis, House of Rice, or Ranch 99, just peruse the aisles, and find something exciting and fun to create a new idea from… It could be anything from a unique piece of fruit or vegetable, or a spice or seasoning. It often only takes one new idea to trigger a whole concept for a dish. When at home, I do find inspiration the same way, although I have a much broader scope of cuisines from which to experiment. Not necessarily focusing on Asian influences, but Italian, Mediterranean, Spanish, French, even tried and true classic dishes, made with sometimes several twists!
Taryn Jeffries: With your extensive experience in local restaurants as well as your culinary beginnings in Colorado, what do you think is one of the greatest lessons that you have learned along the way?
Chef Stephen Stromberg: Pertaining to food specifically, simple and straightforward is best. It’s easy to confuse and complicate things when you have too much going on in one particular dish. I have tried sometimes to do too many things on a plate, and the clarity of the vision can become lost. People that truly love and appreciate food want great flavors, fresh ingredients, but presented in a very approachable way. If you wanted me to share some lessons learned generally throughout the kitchen, it could take all day! Patience and setting the highest standards within my restaurants are two key things that I have learned the importance of, along the way.
Taryn Jeffries: What would you consider to be your favorite item from the new menu?
Chef Stephen Stromberg: The Seared Seabass Pad Thai Tacos is one of my favorite new dishes. I use a tapioca/rice shell that gives a very light and crispy approach to a standard corn or flour taco. The seared seabass combined with fresh avocado, pad thai dressed Asian slaw, and a spicy hint of sriracha sauce, really create a dish that’s full of great flavors… and healthy too.
Taryn Jeffries: Do you have a “go to” meal that is a favorite away from the restaurant?
Chef Stephen Stromberg: I’m always happy with a meal containing pasta or risotto! I love cooking and enjoying dishes made with either, and as with the great variety of rice, pastas can take on any combination of flavors, sauces, vegetables, and proteins. You can add so many things, or very little at all, and still have a complete, well-balanced meal.
Taryn Jeffries: Who do you think that you have learned the most about cooking and/or cuisine from?
Chef Stephen Stromberg: My first reaction is my mother… She was not a dynamic cook, but she did teach me the basics, and could cook the dishes she knew and learned from her mother, so well. But the person I learned the most from was Chef Ken Moody. I met Ken in Boulder during college and immediately made a culinary connection! He shared the same creative and exciting passion for cooking as I did, and offered an apprenticeship at the Hotel Boulderado. I worked under him for 3 years, learning everything he had to share, and gained a great understanding and respect for what it took to become a true cook, and eventually a chef. Menu creation and development from inception, was my favorite and still most appreciated portion of that education.
Taryn Jeffries: Do you have a recipe that you would be willing to share with our readers?
Chef Stephen Stromberg: No way… they’re all secret! I will attach the recipe for Ahi Tuna Poki. Something very easy to make, with great flavor, and healthy too.
Taryn Jeffries: Can you provide a description of your “ideal” diner?
Chef Stephen Stromberg: Simple, open minded and excited about food as an experience! Although food is not the only aspect of a diner’s experience, it can set the tone for a great journey. I love to create, sample and experiment with food and flavors even within my own menus, so a diner that is willing to remove specific ideas of what he/she should expect, can allow me to start fresh and open, and take them through, step by step… Whether they’ll be able to get up and walk out afterwards (without assistance,) is another thing.
Taryn Jeffries: What would you consider to be the best meal you have ever had?
Chef Stephen Stromberg: As I’m sure many of us do, I tend to remember meals through events and experiences, the most. There are still a few standout meals that can hold up by the food alone, but something about a great “experience” makes the food that much better! With that being said, it’s still hard to pick just one, but if I must… about 8 years ago my fiancé met me in San Francisco, where I was working as a guest chef for 2 weeks. The night before she left, we decided to see all that the city had to offer, as neither of us had been. We did cocktails and snacks at a few bars/restaurants and landed for dinner at Bacar. Their food was (they’re now closed) contemporary American, and the chef was very creative, yet meticulous in his flavor combinations and plate designs. We sampled about half the menu as it was one of those menus that everything sounded good. Smaller portions so we could try many things, and honestly every dish and bite were fantastic. We ate lobster, lamb, duck, snapper, scallops, foie gras, an array of uniquely prepared vegetables, sauces, garnishes… Although, I may not be able to specifically recite every menu item we had that night, the food, the restaurant, the chef, and the dining experience will stay with me forever!
To view Chef Stephen Stromberg’s recipe of Ahi Tuna Poki, follow this link.
For more information about Sapporo, visit sapporoscottsdale.com.
Interview by Taryn Jeffries, PhoenixBites Staff Writer