Why he's named Cathal. "I was almost called Neil Armstrong, because I was born a few weeks after he came back from the moon. But then a reporter wanted to do a story on my being named after the astronaut and my dad said, 'No way.'"
First big risk. "When I was 19, I opened up my own restaurant in Dublin—needless to say, it was a disaster; we closed up shop after 10 months."
Most memorable cooking experience. "When I was at Bistro Bis in 1999, Julia Child came to town; she was launching her new cooking show with Jacques [Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home]. She surprised us and came in for lunch one day. The next day she cancelled her lunch reservations to come back to Bis. That night she came to the bar and drank a big snifter of brandy."
Biggest inspiration. David Lankford, co-owner of Davon Crest farm in Trappe, Maryland, who's one of Armstrong's main purveyors. "He'd brought in samples—arugula that tastes like intense black pepper; powerfully fragrant strawberries—and we threw them in the fridge. A week later, I found them and they were still picture-perfect. He's as excited about farming as I am about cooking. When I'm down, David is like my Santa Claus."
Favorite childhood dish. His father's paella. "My dad was a travel agent. As part of his business, he'd go abroad and travel reps would cook for him at their houses. He got that recipe from one of those trips. I still ask Dad to cook paella, but he won't do it anymore—he doesn't want to give away any secrets."
Favorite kitchen tool. A meat grinder.
All-time most memorable meal. A dinner he had on his honeymoon in Italy. "My wife Meshelle and I went to this little beach shack in San Vincenzo. The cook came out in shorts and a dirty apron and we ordered clams and mussels and prawns. They came right out of the sea. We always say that when we go back to Italy, we'll take a helicopter directly to that place."
Favorite guilty pleasure. Häagen-Dazs butter pecan ice cream.
What he'd be if he wasn't a chef. An emergency room doctor. "There's a similar adrenaline rush."
Food trend he most dislikes. "Sous vide doesn't interest me. A few chefs have done well at mastering it, but now it's exploded into everything. To me, it's basically boil-in-the-bag rice. That's not the direction we should be going in."
His favorite Food Network show. "I like what Emeril does. He doesn't attempt to teach professionals to cook, but what he teaches regular cooks is brilliant."