If your cooking were a genre of music, what would it be?: Grateful Dead, or any other great "jam band." It's a spontaneous collection of ingredients that just feels right.
Describe a meal you'll never forget and why it's so memorable: At the Biltmore Hotel, in Coral Gables, Palme d'Or Restaurant prepared by Chef Phillip Ruiz. It was 27 courses, five bottles of wine, and seven hours. It was my last day working there. I ate by myself because I wanted to immerse myself in the experience.
Name a culinary mentor and explain what you learned from that person: Master Chef Peter Timmons, the chef at The Greenbrier during my apprenticeship. He taught me where my threshold for pain is.
Do you watch Food Network?: Ab-so-lutely-effin-not. If you really want to know what it's like to work in a kitchen, watch Deadliest Catch. It's unscripted, passionate, and shows true determination through unforeseen difficulties. Working in a kitchen is more often like being at sea during a storm -- not in a studio with makeup artists.
Name a chef (or two) you'd love to spend a week with and explain why: Anthony Bourdain, Marco Pierre White, and Christopher Gross. Can you imagine how fun that would be? Crazy-ass chefs with true-grit experience. What do you wish we had more of: Months when the temperature is below 90 degrees.
Explain your thought process in creating the menu for Petite Maison: The whole concept for Petite Maison happened so naturally it's almost hard to describe. When I saw the building for the first time, I just knew it should be a bistro that transports guests to a place far, far away. The menu may look simple, but it includes some of the most difficult and time-honored techniques a cook can use. I wanted to honor my trade and the time-honored craftsmanship of the great chefs.
What's your pet peeve in the kitchen?: Dull knives, not having stations set on time, and when my cooks say, "Yes Chef!" but they really mean, "Holy shit, I have no idea." What advice would you give an aspiring young chef?: Run like hell.
What do you understand about being a chef now that you didn't 10 years ago?: Failure isn't such a bad thing. A few battle wounds emotionally and physically may hurt, but they won't kill you.
What's the hardest thing about being a chef?: The thing about being a chef is that it's not just about cooking. It's about being a plumber, bookkeeper, electrician, psychiatrist, salesman, and dishwasher. Cooking is the easy part!
Last meal on earth -- what would it be?: Poached Maine lobster, white truffle risotto, and Romanee Conti, 1985.
How do you hope you'll be remembered?: In the words of Neil Young , "It's better to burn out, than to fade away..."
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Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with: Johnny Chu of SoChu House Neo Asian + Martini Bar Stephen Jones of Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails Chris Gross of Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge Chris Curtiss of NoRTH Arcadia Payton Curry of Brat Haus Mark Tarbell of Tarbell's Josh Hebert of Posh Kevin Binkley of Binkley's Restaurant Lori Hashimoto of Hana Japanese Eatery Larry White, Jr. Lo-Lo's Fried Chicken & Waffles