If your cooking were a genre of music, what would it be?: A three-way love child between Stevie Ray Vaughn, LL Cool J and Blondie -- so it would be classic, can't-stop-listening sexy music.
Which is better -- culinary school training or up through the ranks?: It depends on who you are and how you learn. I've had all-stars on my team from both the school of hard knocks and classical training.
What really turns you off when you're dining at a restaurant?: Cleanliness is a huge bone of contention for me, light bulbs that are burnt out, servers more interested in themselves than the guests. sloppy plates and dirty silverware.
Name two of your favorite Phoenix restaurants: Richardson's & Dick's Hideaway. I've always lived in this neck of the woods and they are always open. I like the spice that comes with the meal and the food is always served hot. I also like The Parlor -- great for a date night or a quick to-go order on the way home. The design is very cool, the music is good and the food is always delicious and changing seasonally.
Name a national/international chef you greatly admire and explain why: Jamie Oliver, a chef on a mission. I love his show about traveling through Italy and his backyard cooking show where he uses his brick oven and grill. Again, a great example of simple cooking done well.
Favorite thing to eat growing up: Cheese enchiladas, millet with lots of butter, cream of wheat and messy sandwiches.
Favorite thing to eat now: Beets, real tomatoes, tender pork, braised meats and REALLY messy sandwiches.
Name a chef you'd love to spend a week with and explain why: John Besh or Donald Link. Both cook the way I love to eat and I'm sure they could show me a few dishes that would rock my world.
Pet peeve in the kitchen: Waste, disregard for the equipment, not doing enough deep cleaning and not looking out for your teammates.
What's your guiding principle about cooking?: Let the food do the talking, don't over-work something (sometimes the best flavors are the ones that are simple and natural), season gently, combine elegantly and enjoy the simplicity. What advice would you give an aspiring chef?: Work in the restaurants that are attractive to you, work in the places where you like to eat. Try the profession on before investing in school. Becoming a chef is a process that takes time. If you rush into/through it, you will miss valuable lessons and tricks of the trade. The hours are longer than you can ever imagine so make sure you are ready for it. A chef's job is as much about the business side of it as it is the cooking and creating side; don't ignore either one. If cooking truly is your passion, you will do well.
What do you understand now that you didn't 10 years ago?: It's a marathon, not a sprint. Everyone in the restaurant watches every move you make, so you have to lead by example, not by preaching. Your day/job is never over.
Explain your thought process in creating the menu for Beckett's Table: I wanted to create familiar favorites that were totally craveable and memorable. I wanted to have something for everyone, to keep the food sounding simple but to take my time preparing and developing the flavors.
Which family member most inspired you to cook: Both my mom and dad spent a lot of time in the kitchen, and I think it was only natural for me to end up in this profession.
What should be written on your headstone?: Father, husband, cooker of pork.
Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with: Bryan Dooley of Bryan's Black Mountain Barbecue Silvana Salcido Esparza of Barrio Cafe Jeff Kraus of Crepe Bar Bernie Kantak of Citizen Public House James Porter of Petite Maison 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