1. What made you want to become a chef?
I have always loved to be in the kitchen, but being a chef never really occurred to me until I saw that I was finding a unique voice in the food world while competing in the MasterChef kitchen.
2. You really hit the culinary scene with your debut and win on MasterChef Season 7. What was the most difficult challenge you won on the show?
That is a tough one. I found the team challenges to be the toughest for me, but out of the challenges I actually won I would say the toughest and most rewarding was when I won the single ingredient mystery box. It was the family episode, so my mom was in the kitchen and one of my favorite chefs, Richard Blais, had just been announced as our newest guest judge so I was on cloud 9; but it was the only challenge that I could actually feel myself shaking as time was winding down and I was finishing up my plate.
3. You’re a DJ and a cookbook author (My Modern American Table) as well as a chef. How do you juggle wearing so many different hats?
Well, to be honest, I have not really had the time to do much DJing lately; my love for food has truly grown so I am focusing much more on this culinary journey. I feel like I have been incredibly blessed to have been able to pursue two things that I am so passionate about; so when you’re chasing dreams and doing things that make you happy, it’s not really work.
4. Is there a specific type of music you like to listen to in the kitchen?
Not at all! I find myself listening to all kinds of different music while cooking. Some days it’s electronic music, other days its 90s hip hop and even smooth jazz. It all depends on the mood of the day and I guess somewhat dependent on what I am making; if I am working on a more upscale, classy, refined dish, then I tend to lean toward the smooth jazz or classic rock. If I am outside barbecuing a bunch of meat, the music is probably a little more high energy.
5. What can home cooks expect to get from My Modern American Table?
I really hope that people get excited to get outside of their comfort zones and open themselves up to new flavor experiences. Whether trying my squid ink risotto or my sweetbread tortellini, don't be afraid to try new things because the food world is so vast and there are some amazing treats to be discovered.
6. What is the newest culinary trend you see emerging that you’re using yourself?
Working with cheap cuts of meat or offal; trendy restaurants and bars are really pushing the envelope forward when it comes to working with some of these cuts and I really enjoy working with them as well. It doesn't take a ton of skill to make a beautiful piece of beef tenderloin into something special, but to make something spectacular out of sweetbreads or bone marrow, now that is the sign of a truly inspired chef. Not to say I don't love to work with high end ingredients as well, but the trick is finding balance.
7. What’s the strangest thing we would find in your refrigerator?
Hahaha right now probably squid ink. I also have some very cool peppers from Peru called Sweety Drop Peppers that are delicious. If you would have asked about the freezer, I would have had to say a whole bunch of animal carcasses I'm saving for stocks and sauces.
8. If you could eat anywhere in the world, where would that be?
Right now the top of my list is Osteria Francescana
in Modena Italy. The chef/owner is Massimo Bottura and he is one of the most incredible minds and artists in the food world today. I would love to try his creations. I recently had the opportunity to eat at Alinea in Chicago; the menu Chef Grant Achatz is doing there is something truly futuristic – food that really makes you think about flavors, textures and temperatures. It was one of the greatest meals of my life.
9. Is there one comfort food that you’re secretly obsessed with having at home?
I am definitely a steak guy. A nice cast iron seared rib eye always makes me happy.
10. Which talent would you most like to have that you don’t possess?
I used to be a really good soccer player back in high school, but I haven't played since the 90s and sometimes I really wish I had kept up with the sport. As far as a new talent, if you would call it a talent - I would love to learn how to speak Italian. I attempted Rosetta Stone but it was very time consuming.
11. What’s your favorite meal to cook for friends?
Well they all seem to come running when I ring the risotto bell, but recently I have enjoyed doing whole suckling pigs. It’s pretty impressive to have a whole roasted animal as part of your spread when you have friends over for some drinks.
12. Who was your mentor or role model as you were becoming a chef?
The obvious answer to this is definitely Gordon Ramsay, but I have had many mentors in the way of cookbooks. I can go to my collection at any time and be face-to-face with the recipes of Gordon, Daniel Humm, Daniel Boulud, Richard Blais, Massimo Bottura, Sean Brock and the list goes on and on. Cookbooks have been my culinary school and will continue to be my resource to what is new in the food world, as well as my way of gaining knowledge of the past.
13. If you could cook for and dine with anyone, who would that be?
Personally it would have to be my late father, but I'm not sure what the fun answer would be. I have already cooked for some of my all-time favorite chefs, so this is a tough question… I guess I would have to say maybe DaVinci. I have always been somewhat obsessed with Italian food, art and culture, so I'm sure there would be some great conversation there.
14. What can attendees expect from your demonstration at the 2017 Western Foodservice & Hospitality Expo?
They can expect to see something they may find a little strange, but something that we as humans have been eating since the dawn of man and that is a main ingredient in dishes from around the world. My bone marrow demo not only dives into the history and importance of bone marrow to humans, but also touches on the popularity of the ingredient in many cultures. Not to mention I am going to teach you a new spin on my bone marrow recipe from my cookbook.
15. What can your fans expect from you next, as both a DJ and a chef?
Oh so many things! I am continuing the My Modern American Table
cookbook tour all over the U.S and with some very cool stops internationally. There are several TV appearances coming up in the near future and I will be continuing to teach my recipes on the new platform Cooking with MasterChef
where you can learn some of the tips to my success in the MasterChef kitchen; you can sign up here
. I will also be once again setting sail on the MasterChef Cruise November 12-19 out of Ft Lauderdale, Florida, and sailing to Grand Turk, San Juan, St. Marten and Half Moon Bay, an award winning private island owned by Holland America cruise line! So yeah, you can catch me coming to a city near you pretty much!