Why he won Because his food is as comforting and delicious as a grandmother’s—if her kitchen were equipped with a couple of immersion circulators.
Born Concord, NH; 1977.
Experience Fore Street, Portland, ME; Rialto, Cambridge, MA.
Family food business “After high school, I opened a coffeehouse with my family in Portland. It lasted for about two years. We closed it because it was becoming too much of a food business and turning into a lunch place. More food, more employees—that wasn’t what we wanted. Now, ironically, I own a restaurant.”
How he got into cooking “When I was a kid, my mother and I baked every Sunday. We’d pick different types of bread, like sour cream bread—it’s like a Pullman loaf. I think it was a James Beard thing. In high school, I was a latchkey kid. I’d write weekly menus, do the grocery shopping, cook and have dinner ready. But I didn’t think about it, I was so intensely focused on my music career.”
Hobby Classical percussion. “I studied percussion for 14 years. I did some jazz projects and things with the Cleveland Orchestra. But the more I got into my music career, the more I saw that the chances of getting a job with an orchestra were very difficult, and that the life of a studio musician isn’t very glamorous. So I gave up a full scholarship to the American Conservatory of Music and decided I would cook and find time to play music on the side.”
Part-time project His farm. “My farm is an ongoing experiment—we grow staples like leeks, carrots, potatoes, favas, Jerusalem artichokes and more heirloom tomatoes than I can sometimes use (though that’s not a bad thing). It’s outside of Concord, New Hampshire, about an hour away. My father is taking care of it. He’s been an avid gardener forever, and when he retired, he asked if he could grow some things for the restaurant. It has turned into three good-size plots.”
Most memorable cooking experience Cooking for Julia Child, twice. “The first time, I made a whole roasted lobe of foie gras—I believe she pretty much ate the whole thing herself. Her books were the staples we cooked out of when I was growing up. I got two first editions of Mastering the Art of French Cooking signed by her and gave one to my mother for her birthday.”
Most humbling moment “To get a job at Fore Street, I bugged [chef and partner] Sam Hayward to the point where he had to hire me. He put me in charge of the wood-burning oven, and I’d never cooked a whole fish in my life. I thought I could figure it out. The first fish I got was a sea bass, so I called over to the sous chef and asked, ‘By the way, how can you tell when this is done?’ I picked it up pretty quickly after that.”
Pet peeve “People working dirty. I have a very small kitchen, so I like to keep it very clean and tight.”
Latest obsession “I’m hoping that I don’t kill my new immersion circulator. We’re still playing and learning, but for a small kitchen, it has opened up a whole different world.”
Favorite childhood cooking story Having his grandfather build him a step stool when he was four so he could reach the stove and help cook.
Favorite kitchen tool “It keeps changing; it almost depends on the menu. Right now it’s the circulator; next, it could be my knife.”
Most memorable meal “This is more the circumstance. When I proposed to my girlfriend, Analia Verolo, I did it at Nobu in New York. We ordered a tasting menu, and so did the table next to us. The woman over there kept looking to see what we were having. We got the last Kobe beef with foie gras; the other table had wanted it but there weren’t any more. The engagement ring was in our dessert, and it came in an absolutely huge dessert sampler. Finally, the woman next to us had enough and said, ‘What the hell is going on?’ Then she figured it out and had to try and be polite.”
Fantasy splurge “Spain. Period. I could probably spend forever at El Bulli and hang out at the beach outside the restaurant. When I finally get to go to Spain, I may not return.”
Favorite cheap eat Tacos Lupita, a tiny Salvadoran-Mexican place in Somerville that’s on the way from Bremer’s house to Salts. “They do a burrito de lengua (tongue); that’s typically what I get.”
Favorite guilty pleasure Raiding the pastry chef’s cooler.
What his next restaurant would be “Something much more casual and tapas-inspired, with very loud Latin rock music.”
What he’d be if he weren’t a chef “Playing percussion for one of those loud Latin rock bands.”
Food trend he most dislikes “People who note El Bulli as inspiration and then put Altoids on lamb. I’ve dubbed it a bad game of telephone. People should do more homework before jumping on a bandwagon.”
Advice to future cooks “Before you spend the money and time to go to cooking school, find a restaurant to work in for a year or two.”
Favorite cooking show The original Japanese Iron Chef.
Favorite cookbook Paco Torreblanca’s pastry books. “We’re on a sugar kick in the kitchen.”
Congratulations to Mei Lin, winner of Top Chef Season 12.