Matt Ochs isn’t afraid to talk about his challenges. Case in point: During a press tour, the chef at the recently opened restaurant Ghost Box Pizza in Lafayette unexpectedly said that the pizza was not in his wheelhouse. During a tasting later in the tour, it was clear that he was extremely modest.
Ochs showed great skill with the dough, the sauce, the fillings and the wood-fired ovens. The pizzas we sampled at his restaurant include both a well-executed Detroit-style pepperoni; a wood-fired pizza with prosciutto, arugula, melted onion, cherry tomato and goat cheese; and a mushroom specialty, cleverly named The Fun Guy.
At the same time, Ochs does not shy away from the task of creating even more interesting offers.
“I want to be able to push the boundaries of traditional toppings a bit…to say that braised prime rib doesn’t just have to be served on a plate. Refined cuisine on a crust.
As we spoke, our conversation was unexpectedly marked by the theme of the challenges he had faced. We talked about his four years as executive chef at the Greenbriar Inn and Ochs was generally positive.
“What I loved was that every summer I had 7,000 square feet of produce right outside my house to work on. We had a dishwasher there, it was called Max. He was also our gardener. He did most of the maintenance. I just took out my basket and took what I needed.
Then he came laughing to the part of the story where he was faced with a challenge.
“Day 1, DAY ONE, I got into 300 pounds of beets. So I learned how to pickle, how to can and how to make different soups. As a chef, at the end of the day, money matters. If I’m not taking advantage of the free stuff, I’m not doing my job.
He also told us that he shares a motivating challenge with his staff when working.
“I ask them to work and cook as if they were cooking for their grandmother. To make sure everything would pass this standard.
His challenge is deeply personal to him given that his grandmother was the school dietitian in her native Kansas and an avid home cook.
“I was with her at home. Now I want to do everything in a way that she would appreciate. She passed away a few years ago, but I still hold her up to what I do.
On top of that, Ochs encourages staff to experiment and suggest items for the menu, as he had the good fortune to do early in his career at Michael’s at the Citadel in Phoenix, Arizona.
“This kitchen didn’t just write a menu and give it to us. We were involved in the process. Not all of our ideas made menus, but we were allowed to share what we thought. For me it was important because I was able to cook with my heart.
As for future challenges, he most immediately wants to succeed at Ghost Box Pizza. Full tables open at closing. As we pressed him, he shared what he’d like for the longer-term challenge: to show that he can help a larger umbrella employer open restaurants like he did with Ghost Box. He said:
“I kind of want to put concepts in place, get them rolling, and hand them over to a good person, and then move on to the next one. I’m at the point in my career where I want to do that.
In the meantime, Ochs is more than happy to be in Ghost Box’s kitchen. He spends days working with his family of restaurateurs, envisioning the next inventive pie filling and strategizing how to meet the ultimate challenge for any chef – the next best way to satisfy his diners.