Chef Jason Witzl has always followed his stomach.
A California kid, born and raised in L.A. County, Witzl realized his calling at the age of 19 when a friend uttered two life-changing words: free food.
“He was like, ‘Hey, if you go to culinary school you can literally eat and take food home,’ and I was like, ‘No way,’” Witzl told us.
“I remember him dropping off the culinary-school uniform, and it was a toque, a neckerchief, checkered pants and a big polyester coat. And I’m like, ‘What did I get myself into?’”
As it turns out, a hugely successful career.
Witzl is a successful chef & restaurateur in Long Beach, including his signature, Ellie’s. Named for Witzl’s grandmother, Ellie’s is a bastion for the chef’s thoughtful creations, which draw inspiration from the seasonality of his home state and the cherished techniques of Southern Italy — think ribbons of hand-rolled pappardelle in a pork ragu finished with aged sherry and marjoram, or roasted cauliflower with eggplant puree dusted in a fragrant pistachio dukkah.
Witzl honed his palate through years in the kitchens of Michelin-rated chefs. He took their skills, their flavor profiles and riffed on them to create a style all his own.
One thing that’s never needed riffing: Witzl’s preferred water.
“When I worked at the Water Grill, I would always see my chef drinking Mountain Valley Spring Water, and it became one of those things that, that’s how you know you made it, when you’re drinking the Mountain Valley Spring Water,” Witzl said.
Wait — really?
“Yeah,” he said, laughing at our incredulity. “So, every restaurant I got into, I brought Mountain Valley Spring Water in ... and we would always get comments on the water, which I thought was really interesting because you don’t necessarily get a lot of people commenting on how delicious water is.”
The feedback was so universal, and so sincere, that Witzl looked for other places to put Mountain Valley Spring Water to use. It’s even become the water in which he boils Ellie’s scratch-made, hand-formed pastas.
“(I)t’s clean, it doesn’t have any chlorine, it doesn’t have any of that in it,” Witzl said. “And pasta’s our specialty, so the last thing we want you to be thinking about when you’re eating pasta is, ‘Is this tap water?’ You know?”
Witzl’s love for Mountain Valley Spring Water followed him home, where our five-gallon jugs perch prominently in his family’s kitchen.
“It’s glass, it’s cold, it’s amazing,” he said. “My sister and her boyfriend, every time they come over they’re like, ‘We love the water.’”
Back at Ellie’s, Witzl explained the meaning behind the name. Yes, Ellie was his grandmother, but she was also his safe haven — at least when it came to food.
“(E)very time I wanted to eat and my parents were like, ‘Were not changing dinner,’ I would just go right up the street to my grandma’s house and I’d walk through the door and she’d be like, ‘Whatever you want, I’ll make it for you,’” Witzl said.
“That’s what I wanted this place to be.”
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