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An Inherited Talent

A cooking obsession attracts owner of Victoria's Cucina Italiana to the restaurant business.

This is part of an on-going series profiling local chefs and sharing their favorite summer recipes.

For Uziel DeSouza, of Victoria's Cucina Italiana, the restaurant business is an addiction.

No matter how hard he tries, he can't leave it.

Growing up in Brazil, DeSouza started washing dishes and making pizza in his father's Italian trattoria by the time he was eight years old.

"I grew up rolling up pizza dough and making meatballs when I was young, said DeSouza, who lived near San Paolo, Brazil. "My mother tried to keep me away. She said 'Your father is never home. He works seven days a week.' But I always came back to it. I could never run away."

DeSouza is now owner and head chef at Victoria's Cucina Italiana at 745 High St. He originally opened the restaurant as Primo's Pizzeria in 2000 with only 14 seats and then expanded in 2006 to accommodate more than 100 patrons. Two years ago he changed the name to Victoria's Cucina Italiana after his Sicilian grandmother.

Her influence can still be found in the menu today. Both the marinara sauce, which is slow-cooked for 12 hours before it is served, and the house salad dressings are old, family recipes.

DeSouza came to the U.S. 15 years ago, first working in the Bertucci's in Holliston. He started doing preparation work in the kitchen and one day the pizza chef didn't show up to work and the manager was in a bind.

"He asked me if I knew how to make pizza. I grew up making pizza," said DeSouza.

He then moved to Pennsylvania where a family member owned a restaurant before heading back to open his own place in Westwood with a cousin.

"He's the money guy and I'm the chef. I do everything. I go as they need me. If they need me up front, I'm up front. If they need me to sauté, I sauté. I jump anywhere they need me," said DeSouza.

As if one restaurant wasn't time consuming enough, DeSouza is in the process of opening a second location back in his home country of Brazil. He travels there every other month, he said.

"It'll be much bigger and Mediterranean," he said.

One thing he never has to worry about – having someone to take over his restaurant empire when he retires. His eight-year-old daughter, Isabella Victoria, already has acquired her father's cooking obsession.

"She tells me daddy, 'I want to be a chef when I grow up'," said DeSouza. "When I'm home she wants to watch food shows."

 She frequently joins him at the restaurant, kneading pizza dough or just watching the action.

"If she has the patience for it, if she loves it, yes I would be nice for her to be in the business. It doesn't matter what you do, you have to love it," he said.

Mediterranean-Style Grilled Tuna Steaks

Ingredients

  • 4 fresh tuna steaks, 8 ounces each, 1-inch thick
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 3 sprigs fresh rosemary, about 2 tablespoons leaves stripped from stem
  • Handful flat leaf parsley
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • Coarse salt and black pepper or grill seasoning
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for cooking

Directions

Rinse and pat tuna steaks dry. Place zest on top of cutting board. Pile rosemary and parsley leaves on top of zest. Pile garlic and some coarse salt and black pepper or grill seasoning on top of herbs. Finely chop the garlic, herbs, and spices. Drizzle the olive oil over the tuna steaks just enough to coat each side. Rub herb and garlic mixture into fish, coating pieces evenly on each side. Let stand 10 minutes.

Grill tuna steaks 6 minutes on each side or 4 minutes on each side, if you prefer pink tuna at the center.

Serve with mixed green salad and dressing.

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