Meet the Nobu-trained Chef Behind Gorilla Pies in Valley Village
For people who go ape over pizza.
A gorilla wearing a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball cap holds a pizza. Scooby-Doo’s Mystery Machine swerves to avoid a lizard as big as the groovy van. Nearby, an action figure battle royale rages in a plastic diorama. This is Gorilla Pies in Valley Village on Burbank Boulevard—no ordinary pizzeria, and not just because of the decor.
Another reason: its culinary mastermind. Benjamin Osher, previously a sous chef for Nobu in Los Angeles and Moscow and executive chef at Mama Shelter in Hollywood, describes his creations as “Pittsburgh-style pizza with a California soul.” The gorilla name and motif are an homage to “the guerilla tactics that launched the brand,” initially as an underground pop-up in his Sherman Oaks apartment.
Benjamin lived in the LA area until he was 12, but spent his teen years in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, home to “pizza hero” Joe Aiello. After attending college in Maryland, Benjamin moved to New York City and cofounded the popular art magazine Beautiful/Decay while working as an Apple technician and line cook. Eventually cooking won out.
“I owe the majority of my formal training and development as a chef to my experience at Nobu,” Benjamin says. “The Japanese ideal of sourcing and buying the highest-quality ingredients and presenting them simply and beautifully is essential to my approach.”
“Pittsburgh-style pizza uses Provolone in the cheese mix, which leads to a significantly more cheesy pie,” the chef says. Many Steel City pizzerias use deck ovens for a “thin bottom crust with a pillowy outer crust.” Gorilla Pies relies on an Earthstone brick oven that runs hotter and produces more char.
“Yinzers (people from Pittsburgh) like lots of toppings with over-the-top flavors to appease their hard-working, blue-collar appetites,” Benjamin says. At Gorilla Pies, “deliciousness” is the only criterion, beginning with California-grown Bianco di Napoli tomatoes and naturally fermented, instant yeast-assisted dough that proofs over 24 hours.
One pie variety, the Sierra Bonita, is named for the Hollywood street Benjamin lived on as a kid. “I grew up grazing on nasturtiums in Wattles Garden and sucking on wild fennel in the hills, so the pie is a love letter to my childhood.” He matches nasturtiums and pickled fennel with mozzarella, marinara, caramelized onions and arugula.
He found inspiration for the Rabbi in a Reuben sandwich, combining mozzarella with Swiss, pastrami, onion, caraway seeds and smoked kraut.
Gorilla does offer some basic pizzas. He named the Kitten for Marguerite “Kitten” Kenner, “a dearly departed family friend who was a major influence.”
There is plenty of fare for less-adventurous diners: pizzas, salads, “monkey bars” (garlic bread) and truly unique “dry & spicy” wings. The wings are drenched in potato starch, fried twice, seasoned with a tangy mix that includes yogurt powder, Tajin, and Indian chili powder, and served with house-made ranch dusted with pepper and paprika. “I’m a bit of a mad scientist,” he explains.
Gorilla Pies is a family business. Younger brother Jake is co-owner, running the front of house and handling marketing. Their mother curated the fun wall hangings, including childhood photos. Many people in the community are Jewish, including the Oshers, but the Oshers play by their own rules. As a sign in the window says, “It’s Osher Not Kosher.”