If You Think You Don't Like Pesto, Think Again!
Written by Gayle
And if you do love pesto, you'll be happy to discover these!
You know how sometimes things get in the way of your biggest dreams, and then you find out that you didn't know what your biggest dream really was? Well, that's what happened to Steve, of Chef Stroh's Pestos.
After graduating from Rio Mesa High School (I told you he was local!), Steve went to college and played football at Northwest Missouri University, where he often cooked for friends who were looking for some real food!
When he came back to Oxnard, he was planning to be a sheriff (you know, the original dream?) but there was a hiring freeze. So in the meantime, he went back into the restaurant business. He had started as a dishwasher at age 15 and worked his way up before going away to college. Since the Sheriff's thing had to be put on hold, he worked at several places. He then apprenticed at The Cave in Ventura for three years. He also worked at Ventura Wine Company. He has been a chef at Borderline and also at The Kitchen in Oxnard. He developed his pesto recipes as he worked. He played with some varieties, and started making them for friends.
At one particular party where Steve had provided some pesto sauces, a man really loved what he tasted. He contacted Steve and asked him if he catered. "Sure!" But Steve never had catered. He called his mom, Donna. They made it happen--a catered event for 250 people! They borrowed a friend's commercial kitchen and went to work. The pestos were a huge hit--people were even spooning it into zip-lock bags to take home! (Is that even socially acceptable?)
So Steve knew he had a potential blockbuster on his hands. (Goodbye, Sheriff's office!) Of course he had some adjustments to make. His pestos had always been fresh in a plastic tub that needed to be refrigerated. But in order to increase the marketability of the pesto, he had to make them shelf stable. He worked on the chemistry of canning and shelf life.
The first time they tried to can the pestos, they read what they could about canning. Thinking it would all work out, they just put the pestos in small Mason jars and processed them in a hot bath. But they ignored the instructions to put some acid in the recipe. And what they ended up with was dozens of bottles exploding! The ph was wrong and the pestos fermented. So this is where chemistry came in!
Luckily they got it all figured out, and the recipes tasted just great. Steve visited small specialty stores, restaurants and delis to get the opening order. They canned their first batch on December 22, 2011, and sold out on the first day. People started reordering right away, and so Steve and Donna were off to the races. Lassen's started carrying Chef Stroh's pestos about a year ago, and Donna regularly comes to the stores to do demos and tastings.
Steve's philosophy is "Anyone can cook." They provide recipe cards with the sauces that will give you all kinds of ideas of how to cook with pesto. And he has paired his love of cooking with his love of football--the chef on each jar is wearing a football jersey with a number that represents something important to Steve and Donna. Steve also coaches football at his alma mater, Rio Mesa High School in Oxnard. And Donna is taking care of the billing, invoicing, sales and marketing.
Steve has the launch of two new flavors up his sleeve--in addition to the four on the shelf now (The Green Monster, Sun-dried Tomato, Smok'n, and Blue Apricot.) Try the originals and watch for the new flavors!
Lassen's is excited to carry this locally produced pesto from Chef Stroh! Try some today--and check out their recipes, too.