F&W Star Chef
Restaurants: Bacchanalia, Floataway Café, Star Provisions, Little Bacch, W.H. Stiles Fish Camp (Atlanta)
Experience: La Petit Ferme and The Grolier Club (New York City); 21 Federal (Nantucket, MA); The Bimini Twist, Zuni Café (San Francisco)
Education: California Culinary Academy in San Francisco
Who taught you how to cook? What is the most important thing you learned from him or her?
My paternal grandmother, who taught me the generosity of feeding people graciously.
What was the first dish you ever cooked yourself? And what is the best dish for a neophyte cook to try?
An easy-bake chocolate cake, in an Easy Bake Oven I got as a gift for my fifth Christmas.
For a neophyte, I’d suggest slow-roasted leg of pork. Brine for a few days in a simple salt brine. Rub with toasted fennel seed, garlic and chile flakes, then slow cook it in a 225-degree oven for 18 hours, basting it with fresh lemon juice while it cooks.
Who is your food mentor? What is the most important thing you learned from him/her?
Judy Rodgers, from Zuni Café, who taught me respect for the ingredient and the place from which it came.
Favorite cookbook of all time?
The book I most often go back to read is The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis.
What's the most important skill you need to be a great cook?
Patience, passion, palate.
Is there a culinary skill or type of dish that you wish you were better at?
I would like to feel comfortable cooking Indian food.
What is the best bang-for-the-buck ingredient, and how would you use it?
Eggs, eggs, eggs. They’re the perfect food: slow-cooked in a brothy vegetable pistou or filled with spring greens and a little pork.
What is your current food obsession?
Fresh sheep’s-milk cheese.
What do you consider your other talent(s) besides cooking?
Design or styling, both for the restaurants and our store.
If you could invent a restaurant for your next (imaginary) project, what would it be?
A lobster shack on a beach. It would be counter service only, and we would only serve one item: lobster rolls—the cold kind with homemade mayonnaise, a little celery and a butter-toasted roll.
If you were going to take Mario Batali out to eat, where would it be?
I’d take him for a meal prepared by Nadia Santini at Dal Pescatore in northern Italy.
If you were facing an emergency and could only take one backpack of supplies, what would you bring, and what would you make?
Prosciutto, butter and baguettes—and a few figs, if they were in season.
What ingredient will people be talking about in five years?
Turkey eggs, because they’re twice the size and twice the protein of standard chicken eggs. They are very rare and delicious and used to be considered a delicacy.
Do you have any food superstitions or pre- or post-shift rituals?
I am a germaphobe and afraid of pans, pots, bowls or sheet pans that are left wet.