Michael Carlson

Why he won Because he ingeniously combines a classic Italian cooking sensibility with avant-garde techniques.
Born Chicago; 1974.
Experience Ristorante San Domenico in Imola, Italy; Spiaggia and Trio, in the Chicago area; the Fat Duck in Bray, England.
How long he lasted at cooking school One semester, at Chicago's Cooking and Hospitality Institute. "Then I got a bill and it inspired me to go to Europe. I took my next semester's money and went to Italy for a year."
Most humbling moment Breaking the head chef's knife at San Domenico. "He'd had the knife since he was 19. I had to go hide and cry. I gave him one of my knives, but he wasn't really a huge fan of it. I'm notorious for having dull knives."
On working at the Fat Duck "[Chef] Heston Blumenthal is a really cool cat—he'd take you to the picnic table out back, make sure you had a notebook and then explain things: 'This is how a congealing agent works.'"
What he'd be if he wasn't a chef "I'd be the world-famous poker player with the cowboy hat and sunglasses sitting in the corner."

WEB EXCLUSIVE! Read more of our interview with Michael Carlson