A Chef Looks Back to Move Forward Derek Stevens Has Helped in Building the Culinary Scene in Pittsburgh; He's Now Ready to Go Solo

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), November 20, 2016 | Go to article overview

A Chef Looks Back to Move Forward Derek Stevens Has Helped in Building the Culinary Scene in Pittsburgh; He's Now Ready to Go Solo


is technique is meticulous, and his food as exquisite as it is delicious. Derek Stevens graduated from the venerable Culinary Institute of America, after all, and for 10 years he spun magic as executive chef of Big Burrito's showcase Eleven Contemporary Kitchen in the Strip District.

When he opens his Union Standard restaurant in the historic Union Trust Building, Downtown, early next year, diners can expect more of the upscale, contemporary American fare that has come to define Mr. Stevens' culinary career in Pittsburgh. Or as he notes while leading a dusty-shoe tour of the construction site buzzing with the bang of hammers: "I try to make food that's interesting and creative, tastes good, and has a familiarity to it."

Not too shabby for a kid from the 'burbs who chose vo-tech over traditional academics at North Allegheny High School, and got his start cooking at 15 in a most pedestrian way -- tossing pizza at Chuck E. Cheese's before moving on to Juno Trattoria, both in the North Hills.

"I wasn't a good student headed for college," recalls Mr. Stevens, 42, the youngest of three sons and also the tallest (he's a towering 6 feet 4 inches tall). He was comfortable in the kitchen, and CIA was "just the best, and I learned a hell of a lot."

The Maryland native didn't move to Wexford until he was 13. So he considers himself only a "kinda-sorta" Pittsburgher, even though he's spent most of his professional life here, beginning with an externship at the Duquesne Club just before graduating from CIA in 1994. That plum assignment led to a job offer in Chicago he turned down because it was just too hard to leave his family and friends, even though Pittsburgh didn't have a food scene to talk off in the mid-'90s.

An ad in the paper led him to Hyeholde. Working as a line cook for the high-end Moon restaurant proved a good fit for the 20-year-old, who helped to craft imaginative dishes in a kitchen with emerging talent. Richard DeShantz of Meat & Potatoes fame was a co-worker, and so was Chris O'Brien of Poros.

Mr. Stevens also did a short stint at Nina in Highland Park and worked at four restaurants in California, including Bradley Odgen's cafe in San Matteo. Then he kicked around Europe for a summer before boomeranging to Pittsburgh in 1999, where a job as a line cook at Casbah started his long love affair with the Big Burrito group. Within a year he became the executive chef.

It was a quick climb for the self-professed perfectionist, but also an exhausting one. …

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