By Lucia Viti
North Park resident crowned best pasta chef
Do you ever wonder what it’s like to be named the world’s best? North Park’s Accursio Lotá, lauding the title of Barilla Pasta’s World Champion 2017–2018, knows exactly how it tastes.
Selected as one of two contestants to represent America, Lotá bested chefs from six countries through two grueling cook-offs that whittled 20 contestants to 10 in Milan, Italy. Lotá beat out those 10 contestants at the Academia Barilla in Parma, Italy, winning the competition.
Chosen by a panel of Michelin-starred judges — Caterina Ceraudo, Lorenzo Cogo, Alfio Ghezzi, Matteo Baronetto and Roberto Rossi — the culinary prodigy hailed the laurel wreath with his signature dish, Spaghetti alla Carbonara di Mare.
Lotá, a 32-year-old father of two, described the international annual culinary championship — now in its sixth year — as stressful and nerve-wracking.
“The chefs were from five-star restaurants around the world,” Lotá said. “The quality was high. I didn’t go with the attitude of winning. I went with the attitude of doing a very good job. I was surprised. I was happy with the quality of the food that I cooked. I was honored to represent the United States.”
Lotá’s dishes “organized and reinterpreted recipes based on a theme using Barillo Pasta.” In addition to winning the title, he was awarded a scholarship for a technical cooking class at Alma, the world-renowned international cooking school of Italian cuisine located in the Ducal Palace of Colorno, 10 kilometers from Parma.
Despite competing against Michelin-starred chefs, Lotá was surrounded by a spirit of camaraderie.
“The chefs were supportive,” he said. “Everyone was very nice. We shared recipes; it was very cool.”
Barilla’s Pasta Championship was not Lotá’s first epicurean rodeo. Born and raised in the coastal town Menfi, Sicily, he began cooking authentic Mediterranean cuisine alongside his mother and grandmother. When he was not cooking, he harvested olives, milked sheep, and purchased freshly caught fish at the hometown’s local fishing ports.
Between the ages of 14 and 19, he attended cooking school. At 18 years old, he was selected to represent his school at a national culinary competition. The exposure caught the attention of Sergio Mei, famed chef of Milan’s Four Seasons Hotel. Although successful under Mei’s tutelage, Lotá yearned to experiment with his other great love — playing the drums.
Sparked by his passion for music, the drummer moved to California at age 22. Yet the kitchen called Lotá again, who soon found himself cooking at the Biltmore Four Seasons in Santa Barbara for almost two years. The Marine Room in La Jolla followed suit.
In 2012, he partnered with his wife Corinne to open Limone, a fine dining club that coordinated designer, pop-up and themed events. In November of the same year, Lotá went back to his roots to become the executive chef at Solare, Liberty Station’s premiere Italian eatery.
Garnering numerous awards and accolades during his five-year tenure, Solare features southern Italian-style cooking, the way Lotá loves to cook.
“At Solare, we are a team,” he said. “We cook lighter foods with more vegetables, tiny amounts of butter with no cream. The food is fresh — market to table with less bread and meat.”
Key ingredients, including tomatoes, oregano and special vinegars, are purchased from Italy; fresh produce such as long zucchini squash, basil and herbs are grown in small farm in Point Loma.
“Everything we do in Solare is simple and fresh,” Lotá said.
“We’re so very pleased with Accursio [Lotá],” said Randy Smerik, owner and general manager of Solare. “We — myself, my two sons and Accursio — have worked together with a vision to achieve everything Solare has become. I knew Accursio had the capability of winning the title of pasta champion, so I was surprised but not surprised. We celebrated in a big way.”
“Everyone at Solare was very proud of me,” Lotá said.
“Not only is Accursio a great chef, he’s a great guy”, Smerik continued. “Often you hear stories of chefs screaming, yelling and throwing pans. He’s the exact opposite. He’s kind and patient, especially with the new people we bring on board. Accursio’s title is an amazing recognition for all of us. We’re really proud of him.”
The pasta champion’s winning dish — along with a diverse offering of Italian food and cocktails — can be found at Solare, located at 2820 Roosevelt Road in Point Loma’s Liberty Station.
— Contact Lucia Viti at email@example.com.