Favorite thing to eat growing up: Frog legs, blue gills and ribs.
Favorite thing to eat now: Steamed blue crabs and a nice wheat beer. And avocados -- I can't resist them.
What people don't really know/understand about you is: People sometimes think I'm grouchy because I often have a serious face, but actually I'm having the time of my life!
If you weren't a chef, you would be: I've always wanted to be an author. I write a lot of poetry but would like to find time to write a book.
Name a few of your favorite BBQ restaurants around the country: I don't have any favorites, but I prefer Southern, pork-based barbecue -- Memphis- or Carolina-style barbecue joints.
Describe a meal you'll never forget and why it's so memorable: When I first met my wife Donna , she invited me over to her apartment and made me a bologna and American cheese sandwich with really strong cherry Koolaid. We sat on the floor and I fell in love with her.
Name a culinary mentor and explain what you learned from that person: Chef Reed Groban [former executive chef at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess] because he took a chance on a green culinary school graduate and taught me how to be chef!
Name a chef/cook or restaurateur you'd love to spend a week with and explain why: I'm not really much of a chef worshiper. I'd rather spend a week on the road with Jack Kerouac, or throwing stars with [natural science writer and anthropologist] Loren Eiseley, or talking about the moon with Neil Armstrong. Those are my real heroes. Why did you leave fine dining to do BBQ?: My favorite food has always been bold-flavored American food -- Southwestern, Cajun, barbecue etc. We saw a need in our area and created a restaurant that we would like to go to.
Hardest thing about BBQ to get right: Consistency. But hey, that's the hardest thing about anything, right?
What did you learn at CIA that you still use every day at the restaurant?: Organization or mental mise en place, cleanliness, history and how I fit into a proud profession. I don't need to wear chef whites in a bbq restaurant, but I always will!
Pet peeve in the kitchen: A lack of cleanliness and bad music choices!
Guiding principle about cooking: I always say, "Look back, cook forward." Look to the past for inspiration and then create something new.
What advice would you give an aspiring chef?: Be passionate about what you do! Like a marriage, without passion, it will be mediocre at best.
What do you understand about cooking now that you didn't 10 years ago?: The key to the best cooking is simplicity.
Last meal on earth -- what would it be?: A giant pile of blue crabs on a newspaper-covered picnic table with my wife and kids.
What should be written on your tombstone?: I love you, Donna.
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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