Steve Van Zeveren moved to Coeur d'Alene from the California Bay Area in 2012 and opened Uva Italian in 2014.
RESTAURANT WEEK: What was your journey to become a chef?
VAN ZEVEREN: In reality, it was a fluke. I had a great paying union job out of high school. I came to hate the job and walked away from it. I could not afford to eat at my favorite restaurant (which was Italian) so I asked for a job so I could get the employee discount! Starting off washing dishes and making deliveries, the restaurant life piqued my interest. That, coupled with a deeply instilled work ethic and an ability to learn and master tasks quickly, I quickly made the rise from dishwasher to sous chef. I figured I had nothing better to do with $50,000, so I got a fancy piece of paper from the California Culinary Academy.
What do you love best about cooking in our region?
I love that the region has become a budding foodie scene — no longer just diners and steak and potatoes. I love the people's willingness to try new things. I love the friendliness of people here. Coming from the Bay Area, it is a great change of pace.
Describe your philosophy of food and dining out.
I think when you are an owner/chef, you gain a different perspective. My goal was to create an experience that you walked away from feeling you received a great value, [and] understanding there is more to it than just what you put on the plate. Ambiance, level of service and price point all play an important role. People can go anywhere to spend their hard-earned money. You have to give them a reason to pick you.
But in regards to food itself, I think first and foremost we eat with our eyes, so clean, crisp plating is a must. I do not like to clutter my plates with excessive garnishes or sauces. Second would be taste, taking care to make sure the flavors you choose to incorporate work well together. Seasoning correctly is huge, too. I think if you see a guest try your food and reach for the salt, you failed. Lastly, we serve Italian food so giving you large portions is a must.
Who are some of your culinary heroes and why?
I don't really believe in heroes. Heroes let you down. Heroes hold you back from becoming a hero yourself. If you are looking for people that inspire me: Antonio Carluccio, Michael Chiarello, and locally, Laurent Zirotti at Fleur de Sel, and Jeremy Hansen at Santé. I love anyone taking Italian food to the next level and showing the area what real Italian food is.
What do you most appreciate about the local food scene?
I love the newness of the scene. That gives all of us the boldness and the ability to be innovative. While my regular menu may be pretty great, my wine dinners allow me to try so many new things, which a lot of people have never seen.