Favorite thing to eat growing up: Kraft Mac & Cheese. I was a simple, white-bread kid.
Favorite thing to eat now: I love good sushi.
Weirdest thing you ever ate: I grew up here and ate rattlesnake when I was a kid. Not sure how uncommon it is nowadays.
Best food memory: Here's the gushy one. My wedding dinner. Amazing night, best wedding food ever.
Two culinary mentors and what you learned from them: First, Vincent Guerithault. He's a Phoenix icon. I have the utmost respect for him and what he's done for the Valley. I worked in his kitchen at 19 while in culinary school, and he gave me the real-deal perspective a kid at my age needed to see to really set things in motion. Second, Michael White at Fiamma. He taught me the love and purity of the Italian food I do today. He also showed me that you don't have to be a tyrant in the kitchen to get people to follow you into battle. He's a great-hearted dude.
Your most embarrassing moment in the kitchen: When I broke a stack of, like, 20 plates working the hot app station at Vincent's. It wasn't so much embarrassing as painful because he laid into me the entire night. He never let me forget how much his plates cost, but he wasn't going out of his way to be mean. There was tangible information in there. With him, there was always a point.
In which kitchen have you had the most fun?: Tough one. I feel like I learned the most at Michael's [at the Citadel]. I worked with a crazy lineup of chefs -- Matt Carter, Patrick Fegan, Jay Bogsinske, Adam Schop, Michael Swenton, Matt Ochs and, of course, Michael DeMaria himself. All have gone on to greatness. But I feel I'm paying it forward in the kitchen here at The Parlor.
You were still very young, so what was that like?: All these guys were savage, savage cooks. It was intense. They were the French Laundry of Phoenix at the time. Nobody was firing off at that level.
Restaurant you've visited in the last year that blew your mind: Flour & Water in San Francisco. Sick!
What did you come away with from your experience at LGO?: A great connection to the neighborhood, fast-paced breakfast hands.
National/international chef you greatly admire: Nationally, Michael White of Marea in New York (and multiple other restaurants). He was one of my mentors and has the Midas touch with restaurants. Internationally, Marco Pierre White & Fergus Henderson, UK. Too many attributes to list, but true culinary masterminds.
Everyone loves your pizza. How did you arrive at the dough recipe?: It's an adaptation of the dough they've been doing for almost two decades at our sister restaurant Nello's in Ahwatukee. We focus a lot on ingredients and flavor combos, not just the crust.
What makes a great pizza?: A harmony between the crust and the ingredients on top.
What people don't know about you is: I'm tattooed over 75 percent of my body, I ride a Harley every day to work, and I garden. Weird combo, right?
What you know now that you didn't 10 years ago: That I would have an amazing and supportive wife (Holly) and a miracle baby (Grace).
What really turns you off when you're a restaurant customer?: Dirty bathrooms, servers kneeling at the table, uninformed wait staff.
How has Phoenix evolved as a restaurant town, or do you believe it has?: I think it has. I've been here my whole life so I've seen a lot of changes and growth, but we do things differently in AZ. We move at our own pace, but people eventually come around. We'll get there.
Pet peeve in the kitchen: Being unorganized/sloppy. We live our lives with order and purpose and that needs to be the same in the kitchen. Treat it like your own home. Your work life, just like your personal life, needs to be "mise en place" (Frenchy term for having your s#!% together).
Last meal on Earth: Anything braised (shortribs, pork shoulder, chicken). I want to taste the labor that goes into making this technique taste right. I know, a little sadistic.
What's in the future for you?: I'm looking ahead for the next best thing. I'm only 32. I've got lots of gas left, and I don't want to be a cliché chef. I don't want to be that guy.
Written on your headstone: A simple man that lived righteously and sovereign.
Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with: Jared Porter of The Parlor Charleen Badman of FnB Tony Abou-Ganim & Adam Seger Charlotte Voisey of Best American Brands Ambassador Steve Olson of Valley Ho Dough Robson of Gallo Blanco Edward Farrow of The Cafe at MIM Greg LaPrad of Quiessence & Morning Glory Cafe Joshua Johnson of Kai Joshua Johnson of Kai Todd Sicolo of T.Cooks Josh Riesner of Pig & Pickle Lester Gonzalez of Cowboy Ciao M.J. Coe of Federal Pizza Steven "Chops" Smith of Searsucker Aaron Chamberlin of St. Francis Michael Rusconi of Rusconi's American Kitchen Chrysa Robertson of Rancho Pinot Lynn Rossetto of The Splendid Table Cullen Campbell of Crudo DJ Monti Carlo Pete DeRuvo of Davanti Enoteca Chuck Wiley of Cafe ZuZu Justin Beckett of Beckett's Table 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