Samson and Pollack met in 2006 while working in Los Angeles. They immediately connected over a common reverence for traditional Italian cooking, though they had come to love that cuisine from different situations.
Samson, born to a Bolognese mother and American father, was exposed to the pleasures of Italian food at a young age. Whether it was the experience he gained helping his mother in the kitchen at home or annual family trips to Italy that eventually propelled him toward a career in Italian cooking, one thing is certain: once Samson left medical school to become a chef, he never looked back.
By contrast, Pollack’s obsession with Italian cuisine began later in life, while pursuing a degree in architecture from Brown University. During a semester abroad in Florence, Pollack, though impressed by the architectural masterpieces around him, was uniquely mesmerized by the local food scene. The profound appreciation for Italian cooking which for Samson had accumulated slowly throughout his youth seized Pollack in a matter of months, and, like Samson before him, Pollack realized that a career in anything but Italian food was simply not an option.
United by their almost religious devotion to Italian gastronomy, Samson and Pollack dreamed about opening a restaurant together from day one. In January 2009, they had the opportunity to do so when they opened Pizzeria Ortica in Orange County. There, they created a warm and inviting destination where customers could enjoy Neapolitan pizza and other regional Italian dishes. Together they garnered rave reviews from numerous publications, specifically for their wood-fired pizzas and homemade pastas. Notwithstanding the restaurant’s off-the-beaten-path location, Samson and Pollack attracted the attention of international culinary publication Starchefs, which honored them as Rising Stars in 2010; they were the only chefs in Orange County to receive this award. Yet despite the numerous accolades they received at Ortica, the two chefs always yearned to bring their cooking home to fellow Angelenos. They were fortunate enough to partner up with veteran restaurateur Bill Chait, to open Sotto — a southern Italian restaurant here in L.A. where blistered Neapolitan pies are featured alongside lesser-known regional specialties.