Chef at The Chopping Block since: 2012
Favorite class to teach: Any class where people are engaged and having a good time.
Training/education: Le Cordon Bleu (formerly CHIC) in Chicago, and I've got a degree in history to fall back on.
Cooking since: I’ve been interested in food since I was a kid, and I’ve been cooking professionally for about 10 years.
Favorite childhood food experience: The first time I made a recipe from a cookbook when I was a kid (Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf). Picking cherries in my grandmother’s backyard, and then helping with the pitting of pounds of cherries for canning. I remember taking a school trip to Italy as a kid and eating three courses for lunch and dinner. That was a real eye opener. One of the first times I paid my own money for food was from a Turkish food truck in Germany. I got this big pile of hot chicken kebab meat wrapped in a pita, and I couldn’t figure out how to eat it or why I had ordered it since it was unlike anything I had grown up eating. It was messy, delicious and memorable.
What made you want to become a chef? I originally wanted to be a chef to be a better cook. Once I started cooking professionally, I realized that cooking brings two immediate joys; the joy of creating something from scratch, so taking the time to start a project from start to finish, and that it makes people happy. There are few things that accomplish that. Music and Literature are the only things I can think of that even come close.
What is your signature dish? I don’t have any signatures, but I’m trying to make the best that I can with the best that is available.
What are the 5 ingredients you can't live without? Good olive oil, garlic, chiles, citrus and salt.
What do you love about cooking? The things I love most about cooking are that each day is different from the next, and that means even with a recipe that might be dialed in there will always be differences each time it’s made. That’s what makes it interesting. Cooking is also something that brings a lot of people together.
When you're creating a new recipe, what influences and inspires you? The seasons are what most inspire me, because whatever ingredient is in season is without question the freshest. Once you have the freshest then you can decide the best way to work with it.
What advice would you give a new cook? Relax, take a deep breath, have fun and stay patient, and after you’ve taken that deep breath concentrate on learning the basics of technique and seasoning. Once you’ve relaxed, learned some techniques and how to season well, then the world’s your oyster and you can start learning more.
What are you doing when you're not cooking? Living life, trying to bake better bread, staying out of trouble and daydreaming about trips abroad.
Describe your perfect evening. The perfect evening would be eating anywhere near the ocean with good wine, friends and family.
If you had friends in from out of town, where would you take them to eat? Anywhere they wanted to go, and since Chicago doesn’t lack for good places to eat, I think we’d find somewhere good.
Where are you from? My dad was in the Army, but I’ve got roots in Illinois, and I’ve lived in Chicago for 11 years.
What was your favorite vacation? The first time I went somewhere with my then girlfriend and now wife, Amanda. We went to London and the south of France.
What are your hobbies? I like reading reacquainting myself with the drums, and entertaining my daughter.
What is your favorite band? The Clash, Django Reinhardt, Fugazi, Hall and Oates, Prince, and Black Sabbath
What is your favorite sports team? Arsenal
If you could have dinner with one person, who would it be? I’m going with Albert Camus, although I don’t speak French.
What are your guilty pleasures? Cheese and Gummi Bears, although not at the same time.
Who is your favorite celebrity chef? Julia Child
What 5 tools should every new cook have in the kitchen?
What resources would you suggest for Chopping Block students?
List three of your favorite tips or techniques you use in the kitchen.
My favorite tool that we have here at The Chopping Block would have to be the one used with every dish we make.
Stainless steel bowls, of all sizes, are so key that as I write this, I can't think of a dish where if they aren't essential, they are at least helpful. You can mix, measure, organize, store, marinate, get a crowded room's attention by banging on them, put them on a pot of water for a Bain Marie, etc. I could go on from the practical to the ridiculous describing how necessary it is to have a good number of stainless steel bowls in different sizes.
Organization is so important in cooking that having a stack of shiny bowls around makes it that much smoother.