Why haven't you gone to culinary school?
I've probably got more training working in Manhattan than most students do out of culinary school. Some of the best chefs, Chef Eddie Matney here in town and Troy Garden in Denver--they've never set foot in culinary school. It has to do more with passion than anything else. I considered going to get the credentials but the fact of the matter is you might spend $30,000 or $40,000 to get a $10.00 and hour job. I've learned from some of the best chefs in the world--Chef Christian Albin who is the executive chef at Four Seasons, mentored me and you can't get much better than that.
How did you meet Chef Albin?
I had this amazing, relatively simple dish--I remember like I ate it yesterday. It was brandied shrimp on rice pilaf and the shrimp had this light, delicate crust of crumbs. I couldn't figure out how he kept those crumbs form burning. It was Chef Chrisitan Albin (former executive chef of the Four Seasons restaurant in Manhattan) and he said, "Why don't you come back, I'll show you have to make it." I said, "I'd love to come back and cook with you" and I'd go in and sort of work my way up, and eventually he paid me to do what I was doing. That's the thing about chefs, we're always anxious to learn from each other. Recently, for my birthday [my wife] Debbie bought me a dinner at Table 12 and Chef Beau McMillan and Geoffrey Zakarian were cooking dinner that night. After dinner they came out and talked to us for about an hour and it was just amazing to interact with those guys. So after everything was said and done I asked Chef Beau if I could come and cooked with him and he said sure. So a couple weeks later I cooked with Marcus Samuelsson--he owns the Red Rooster in New York and cooked the first Obama state dinner. I take all those opportunities to learn and I learn some amazing things from them.
How do you get these oppportunities?
There's a trick that my old boss showed me. First off, don't dine during peak service. Dine late, when the service is slow and if you have a really great meal offer to send a glass of wine back to the chef. More times than not, they'll come out and they'll be thankful. Sometimes I would ask, "I loved this meal. I'd like to talk to the chef about how he made it." It's amazing what people can get if they just ask.
You regularly write articles and give advice about gluten-free eating, how do you explain the rise of awareness about gluten in the diet?
What's happening is, in my opinion, in this country we screw with our food way too much. The fact of the matter is doctors are becoming better educated at diagnosing people specifically with Celiac disease. There are so many symptoms that can be aliased with other medical conditions and they're finding out now that there are huge neurological links with gluten with autism as well as other neurological disorders. We do a lot to the food and the wheat and grains that are produced today are bred a lot differently than they were 30 years ago--to have a higher concentrate of gluten; our bodies have not adapted to that. Gluten is protein that comes from wheat, barley, and rye and it can be masked in other ingredients. But if you eat fresh, it's not a big deal. Shop the perimeter of the store and get fresh produce, fresh meat, fresh ingredients; you don't typically have to worry about it.Follow Chow Bella on Facebook and Twitter.