How did your cooking career begin?
I took a home economics class in high school to meet girls, and it was love at first sight. The cooking, that is. I also remember making fried chicken for the first time in this class, and that was a revelation.
When did you decide that you wanted to be a chef?
Before that cooking class, I hadn't really been passionate about anything on an academic level. I totally despised school. And that food prep class was the first time I'd ever gotten an A in my life. It became very obvious—and my parents saw it too—that I had a passion for this.
What sort of foods did you grow up eating?
I grew up in an Italian-American household in Long Island and was also exposed to a lot of German foods from my father’s side of the family. I literally didn’t have my first avocado until I was 21. We were lower-middle class, and did not dine out often. When I got a little older, I would throw fits when my parents tried to save money by making me order off the kids menu. My father called me "Mr. à la Carte" for years.
What are your biggest culinary influences?
My family. We regularly had traditional Sunday suppers, as well as serious Italian feasts on holidays. Growing up, the big bowls of pasta and red sauce with the whole family around the table digging in—those are great memories, and those experiences have always stuck with me.
What ingredients could you not live without?
First and foremost, salt. It all starts with salt and salt is the most important. After that, crabs, mozzarella cheese, blueberries, and duck (in no specific order and certainly not all together).