Chef at The Chopping Block since: 2013
Favorite class to teach: I really like that I am able to teach so many styles and types of cooking here at The Chopping Block. My newest favorite class to teach is a hands-on Date Night: The Big Easy which speaks to my earliest restaurant experience. I also love the opportunity to work with our five-day Culinary Boot Camp students. The most important class that I teach is Knife Skills.
Training/education: Back in the day, I worked as a pizza cook and dishwasher and then moved up to running small kitchens in St. Louis before graduating from the Culinary Institute of America. I have also worked as a corporate executive chef as well as a private chef, and I have a Bachelor's in Elementary Education from UIC.
Cooking since: I was a teenager.
Favorite childhood food experience: My favorite childhood experience was helping my grandmother make and cut fresh egg noodles that would go with fresh chicken that she butchered earlier in the day for chicken and noodles. True comfort food!
What made you want to become a chef? Initially, it was out of necessity. I was on my own at 18 and knew that working in a restaurant, I could always grab a meal. I loved the camaraderie that was part of the brigade, and I loved the creative element that should be the part of any good kitchen. The more I cooked and learned, the more I wanted to know.
What is your signature dish? Grilled Shrimp and Andouille Sausage Jambalaya
What are the 5 ingredients you can't live without? High-quality chicken stock, garlic, onions, premium extra-virgin olive oil, and a nice style of sausage.
What do you love about cooking? The creativity and beauty. At one point in my life, I wanted to be an artist. Instead of painting with paint, I love to paint the plate with vibrant colors and different textures so that it is visually as stimulating as it tastes great.
When you're creating a new recipe, what influences and inspires you? It always needs to be based on your audience. The question I ask myself is how is this recipe going to inspire my guests to want to cook this item and more importantly how will it assist them to make this particular recipe their own.
What advice would you give a new cook? Don't be afraid to try something new and fail. If you allow yourself to learn from your mistakes, you will be open to learning anything. Even Master Chefs learn from mistakes, which is an important part of growing as a chef.
What are you doing when you're not cooking? I am first a husband and father. My wife and kids are the most important things in my life. I also have a number of hobbies. I consider myself fairly competent in building and repairing things around our house. I love to home-brew beer, play golf (horribly!), play basketball, and watch the St. Louis Cardinals win!
Describe your perfect evening. I am out with my wife Sharon having a nice dinner and a good bottle of wine. My wife is the best!
If you had friends in from out of town, where would you take them to eat? I grew up in a very, very small town in southern Indiana and the place that I would take them that is most like yet different from where I grew up is the "Publican." You cannot hardly beat their "Spicy Pork Rinds or Head Cheese!"
Where are you from? My hometown is called Connersville. It is located in Fayette County, IN and is almost equal distance between Indianapolis and Cincinnati.
What was your favorite vacation? My wife and I took a Christmas vacation before we had kids to Tampa, Florida. We had a condo on the beach which we walked on every day. It was a very different, but completely magnificent Christmas!
What are your hobbies? Golf, basketball, wood-working, watching great baseball (St. Louis Cardinals) I also am a big fan of sci-fi programs like Dr. Who and Star Trek.
What is your favorite band? Wilco, with the Kinks being a close second.
What is your favorite sports team? I am a big fan of the Chicago Bulls as well as the Bears, but I am a huge (like you couldn't guess) St. Louis Cardinals fan.
If you could have dinner with one person, who would it be? My favorite person, my wife Sharon.
What are your guilty pleasures? Dark chocolate and European black licorice
Who is your favorite celebrity chef? Early on, I was definitely influenced by Justin Wilson. Paul Prudhomme, and Julia Child. I would say that Rick Bayless is my favorite celebrity chef presently because of the way he has taken Hispanic foods and made them so accessible.
What 5 tools should every new cook have in the kitchen?
What resources would you suggest for Chopping Block clients? You need to have a few good books in your collection. I have always referred to Escoffier for general ideas as well as "LaVarenne Pratique" by Anne Willan. Epicurious is a great online resource for recipes and ideas.
List three of your favorite tips or techniques you use in the kitchen.
My favorite ingredient that we have at The Chopping Block is a toss up. For savory items, I can't be without our beautiful Pomodoraccio tomatoes and for baking, the vanilla bean paste by Neilsen-Massey is amazing.
My favorite tool is the Microplane because it is so flexible. It grates nutmeg and/or dark chocolate perfectly and zests citrus like nobody's business.
But my favorite product that we sell is hands-down the Le Creuset Braiser. As its name would dictate, it braises items beautifully, and it is a flexible piece because it can work similarly to a saute pan. What's not to love!