You're dining at a restaurant. What's the one thing that makes you crazy?: When the check is presented, the server has got to be on top of it; if you say you will be right back, you'd better be right back. You gotta get that customer out of there.
How did you beat Bobby Flay on Iron Chef? Describe that experience: It was one of the greatest experiences of my life: overwhelming, intense, exhausting, and exhilarating. I don't know how I beat Bobby except to say that I had a game plan, I had incredible sous chefs, and we were committed to executing a tasting menu with an incredible ingredient [Kobe Beef]. Luckily, we made no mistakes.
What's Wayne Gretzky's favorite Beau Mac dish?:
Wayne is one of the nicest guys on the planet. I love cooking for Wayne, Janet, and their great family, who are always so polite and thankful. Wayne is a meat-and-potatoes man. He likes grilled steak, mashed potatoes, and a Caesar salad.
Best food memory: My best food memories involve my family, especially my grandmother around Christmas holiday in Quebec. I would spend hours at the kitchen table with my grandmother, watching her cook and bake.
If you hadn't become a chef, you would be: I definitely would be doing something in the entertainment business. I grew up playing baseball and hockey and dreamed of becoming a pro hockey player.
Who is/was your most important culinary mentor and what did you learn from this person?: Such a tough question because I've worked for so many important culinary professionals. I have taken lessons from each one of them, and they all are very important to me. Being a chef, you are still a student every day; I learn from my staff. In this career, you must have the ability to be a sponge. You gotta soak it up!
Chef -- local or national -- you have a crush on and why: Giada De Laurentiis (I'll leave that up to your imagination).
What do you wish Phoenix had more of: I wish it had more national attention, being the fifth-largest city in the country. I wish more people around the country know what I know. We have fantastic, talented chefs, incredible restaurants, food-driven events, local farms, culinary schools, markets, artisan cheese farms, bakeries. It's really all available here, I have always been impressed with it and proud to be a part of it. I would like to see a few more butcher shops that would feature charcuterie.
What do you wish Phoenix had less of?: Photo-radar trucks on the side of the street.
Consider the world's great cuisines. Does American Cooking make the list?: Hands down, it makes the list. I love American cuisine! I think fried chicken can be the best thing you have eaten in your life if it is made properly. I have heard people say, "America, Land of the Hamburger" and it makes me laugh. I mean, who doesn't love an amazing hamburger? We decide what's great based on our own interpretations, emotions, and experiences. These are all powerful things, which combine with our senses to make food great.
Name three American chefs who helped put us on the culinary map: There are so many American chefs that put us on the culinary map, but the few that stand out to me are Alice Waters (Chez Panisse) Charlie Trotter (Charlie Trotter Chicago) and Thomas Keller (The French Laundry). They're pioneers that were way out in front of their time with food.
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Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with: 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