F&W Star Chef
Restaurants: Juniper & Ivy, The Crack Shack (San Diego, CA); Flip Burger (Multiple Locations)
Experience: The French Laundry (Yountville, CA); Restaurant Daniel (NYC); BLAIS and One Midtown Kitchen (Atlanta)
Education: Culinary Institute of America
Who taught you how to cook? What is the most important thing you learned from him or her?
My two grandmothers, who were practically opposites when it came to cooking. I had a French grandmother who was basically Julia Child in my eyes. She would make everything from scratch—everything from chicken stock to even Jell-O—and I realized later in life that she truly was a chef and culinary inspiration. My other grandmother was Irish-English, and she would basically crush potatoes and serve them with butter and salt. She believed in absolute simplicity and showed me that even the simplest ingredients can create a great dish when cooked the right way.
What's a dish that defines your cooking style?
I think that my lemon curd and black pepper roasted chicken defines my style—it’s a simple dish, but the unique ingredients and technique elevate it to really be an upgraded version of a classic. I brine the bird with unique spices like Szechuan peppercorn, coriander seeds and Thai chile, and make a delicious lemon curd with egg, sugar, lemon juice, butter and spices. After the bird is brined, I coat the chicken completely with this acidic yet rich curd, making for a delicious version of a classic roast chicken. Of course, people know me for my use of molecular gastronomy—I love to play around with scientific techniques and tools, like liquid nitrogen, dry ice and siphons to add unique elements to my dishes.
What was the first dish you ever cooked yourself? And what is the best dish for a neophyte cook to try?
I can’t envision the first dish I ever cooked myself, but I do remember the first dish I ever cooked for my now wife, Jazmin. I tried to impress her with veal marsala, served with roasted potatoes and garlic-laced spinach. It did the trick!
New cooks should start with simple dishes that they feel comfortable with but want to perfect. Depending on their training, that might be perfecting homemade pasta so that it’s cooked perfectly al dente, or technically mastering a roast chicken, which isn’t as easy as it sounds. Then, they can build on and constantly improve with different techniques and new ingredients.
Who is your food mentor? What is the most important thing you learned from him/her?
I studied under Thomas Keller at French Laundry and under Daniel Boulud at Restaurant Daniel. They both taught me so much that went above and beyond just recipes and cooking techniques. Daniel is an amazing manager and really taught me how to be a leader in the kitchen. Thomas Keller is extremely organized and taught me how to manage a kitchen smoothly and efficiently.
Favorite cookbook of all time?
I love Fergus Henderson’s series of cookbooks, The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating and Beyond Nose to Tail. I think people are surprised that my favorite cookbooks aren’t super scientific, but I love Fergus’s respect for the whole animal, local vegetables and simplistic cooking.
What's the most important skill you need to be a great cook?
Time management and being able to plan ahead, especially if you’re a home cook. It’s essential to be able to plan and prep your dishes ahead of time, as well as clean up as you go.
Best bang-for-the-buck food trip—where would you go and why?
New York City is one of my favorite food cities. You can find any type of authentic cuisine, from dim sum in Chinatown to pasta in Little Italy, at any time of day or night. You can take a cultural food tour and essentially travel around the world while staying in one city.
What do you consider your other talent(s) besides cooking?
Running. I love to run in new cities when I'm traveling, to get the lay of the land and explore. I run half-marathons and have done several full marathons, as well. It’s my way to decompress and work off all of the great things I’m fortunate enough to eat!
What do you eat straight out of the fridge, standing up? What is your favorite snack?
I love to whip up a cucumber and mayonnaise sandwich with sea salt on wheat bread. Mayonnaise is the ultimate condiment—you can use it as a base for just about every kind of sauce or dressing. If I’m just eating a quick snack, I’ll usually use good-quality, store-bought mayonnaise, but I also often make my own aioli, with egg, garlic, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, cider vinegar, white ground pepper, olive oil, hot sauce and kosher salt.
Do you have any food superstitions or pre- or post- shift rituals?
I have to scrub my workstation before beginning prep, even if I know that it has already been cleaned.