1) Is Top Chef your first national TV feature?
Yes. We’ve received some national news features but this is the first on TV.
2) Was there a single experience that prepared you to be on Top Chef more than others?
Nothing can really prepare you well for Top Chef because it’s such a unique experience. However, having worked at restaurants like Le Cirque, Café Boulud and Aureole in New York taught me to produce food of high quality and consistency in a high-pressure environment. At those places, some of the best chefs you’ll ever meet are standing there analyzing every single dish you make before it’s sent out.
3) What was the coolest experience you had while filming the show?
Getting to know the 15 other really high caliber chefs from around the country was the coolest part of the experience. We learned from each together, lived together and bonded over the stress and pressure of the show, and got to build lasting friendships. We still keep in touch.
4) Were you an avid Top Chef watcher before you were cast for the show?
I would watch episodes here and there.
5) Did you strategize the way you were going to cook on Top Chef (i.e. reaching out to past contestants, practicing quick fire challenges…etc.)?
Yes. I practiced some quick-fire challenges. Our marketing director at the time would send quick-fire challenges randomly.
6) What was your most difficult task you faced on Top Chef (in the season so far)?
Navigating the physical layout of kitchen was challenging – gathering ingredients, getting prep work to the stove, and back to the plate. In our restaurant and home kitchens, equipment and prep/cook areas are placed strategically to make life easier. I think on Top Chef things are strategically placed to make life harder. It took some time to get into the groove.
7) Who is a celebrity chef that you look up to the most and why?
Daniel Boulud. Working under him as a young cook, he taught me high standards of excellence and that have carried over into my career. It’s shaped my philosophy in cooking and selecting ingredients, writing a menu and especially when opening all of our 5Church locations.
8) What is your go-to meal to make outside of the restaurant?
My 12-year old son, Max, is a vegetarian and somewhat health conscious. He doesn’t drink soda or eat sweets, so I have to take that into consideration when I’m cooking or else he won’t eat it. Spaghetti cacio e pepe is our favorite thing to make together right now.
9) What is your favorite restaurant in Atlanta besides 5Church?
Staplehouse, hands down. What Ryan Smith and those guys are doing is incredible, both from a culinary standpoint and community impact standpoint. The entire team there is awesome and they put out amazing food while making a commitment to using local and seasonal ingredients in a different way every single day. It’s really inspiring – I would even love to do a stage there, if they would have me.
10) Do you think you’ll take any of the skills you learned from Top Chef and bring them back home to 5Church?
Definitely. My overall experience on Top Chef inspired a new approach in my cooking, helped me evolve and develop techniques and allowed me to discover new products and ingredients. Sheldon Simeon from Hawaii introduced me to Spam. He made it for us at the house one day – seared in a pan and made a sushi roll in a really mind-blowing way. When we cook at the James Beard House in February, I’m making an amuse bouche that will be a spin on Spam.
11) What is your favorite dish and drink at 5Church Atlanta?
Our Butternut Squash Agnolotti or the Pappardelle with Duck Confit. I’m a sucker for fresh pasta and it’s really important for me that we make all of our pasta fresh in-house every day. I spent a couple of weeks in the south of France and Italy a couple years back and at a farmers’ market, I saw a guy there making fresh pasta. The skill and the craft that goes into it completely blew my mind and inspired this innate love of fresh pasta in me.
12) We heard that you’re cooking at the James Beard House in February. What are you most excited about?
It’s just exciting to be invited, to be included in the same caliber of other chefs that are invited to cook there. It’s also exciting to go back to New York – it’s where I started my career and I left after 9/11. I’ve come such a long way since I left as a young cook, and now to come back and cook at Mr. Beard’s house is truly an honor.