Leo Siminoff heats up senior year as a sous-chef at Osteria Divino

Justine Fisch

Senior Leo Siminoff preparing dishes for the busy night hours at Osteria Divino.

The kitchen lights flicker in the Italian Sausalito restaurant Osteria Divino as senior Leo Siminoff puts on his apron and begins to prepare for the nighttime rush. From his spot in the kitchen, he can hear the jazz band playing, and the cheerful conversations fill every corner of the room. Siminoff has always had a passion for cooking but only began working as a sous-chef at Osteria Divino in March of 2020.  

Showing a deep devotion for cooking from a young age, Siminoff graduated from a summer culinary course at 12 years old

in 2016. After being given a recommendation by a family-friend, he was interviewed and put on a short trial period at the restaurant. He later received the title of sous-chef. He greatly appreciates the opportunity to cook for so many people, and believes one of the best parts about the job is connecting with others through food.

“[Cooking] has always been a great way to express my creativity and learn more about other cultures,” Siminoff said.

He values the sense of community that working in the kitchen has given him. His role has also shown him the importance of constructive criticism and the application of new techniques into his cooking. 

“I would say working at Divino doesn’t feel like a job. It’s a lifestyle. I love getting to work somewhere that doesn’t feel like an obligation, but just seeing friends and also doing something I love,” Siminoff said.

Siminoff is greatly admired at the restaurant, according to bartender and coworker Stephan Kaplan. Kaplan enjoys working with him not only for his proficiency in the kitchen, but also for his determination and never-failing positive attitude that contributes to their family-like climate.

“It’s a very small restaurant, and we see each other all the time. I really love [working with Siminoff]. He’s super positive and he has this great ability to cheer me up when I’m maybe not feeling it one day,” Kaplan said. 

Despite his young age, Siminoff is an asset to Osteria Divino’s team, according to the owner, Elizabeth Nebot. Like Kaplan, Nebot recognizes Siminoff’s desire to learn and is excited to see where cooking could take him in the future. 

“I love Leo. He’s just great and such a pleasure to have. He works really hard even though he has less experience. Sometimes it’s just nice to have someone fresh who is eager to learn,” Nebot said. 

As a senior in high school, Siminoff has learned the importance of balancing school work with working late nights at the restaurant. Learning to maximize his time in school to get classwork done and getting a head start on assignments has helped Siminoff avoid unwanted stress.

“It can hit me pretty hard on Monday morning coming from a Sunday shift and working eight to nine hours. It is hard to manage homework and organization, but I typically know what I need to do,” Siminoff said.

While balancing work, school and social activities, Siminoff also strives to improve his creations and techniques as a chef. Learning to accommodate the general population of guests has allowed him to expand his expressive abilities in the kitchen. 

“The second night I worked there, I made a dish and I peered out of the kitchen. After [the guests had] the food that I made, you could see the enjoyment on their faces,” Siminoff said. “It really is a feeling of joy, and it’s really cool to see because they don’t know that I made it. They probably think it’s some 30 or 40-year-old, and they don’t need to know [how old I am], but it feels good to make something that other people can enjoy.”

Plating and assembling a variety of meals, Siminoff gets ready for his nighttime shift.

For Siminoff, working at Osteria Divino provides him with a professional experience that could potentially become his career. 

“It’s really great talking to him. [Working with him] just reminds me of how exciting it is to be that age and have your whole life ahead of you,” Kaplan said.

By developing productive organizational and study habits, Siminoff has adapted to his busy, but rewarding schedule. Reflecting on the origins of his love for cooking, he feels proud to see the progress that he has made as a chef.

“What got me into cooking was every Sunday making eggs in the morning with my dad and then at night making Middle Eastern or Italian dishes with my mom. Whatever it may be, I am just grateful that I can make other people happy doing something that I love,” Siminoff said.