How and when did you learn so much about wine: I was in wine school in Paris at age 19. But it all started with a couple of unfortunate experiences with MD 20-20, Boone's Farm, and Ripple. I thought, "There must be better than this!" And there was.
Most overrated ingredient: Local coffee. There are exceptions, such as R.O.C., but coffee beans are not from here. Roasting is both craft (honed by massive experience) and science. Selecting beans also is extremely difficult and complex. We should trust those who own and/or control the source in responsible ways and trust those with the best equipment and science behind the grinding and roasting. The best coffee is not burnt, green, or bitter. It's creamy, complex, deep, robust, and smooth. There. I've said it.
Most underrated ingredient: Fresh goat cheese and sheep's milk feta. I can easily power down a block of either one.
Name three things always found in your pantry/fridge: Chervil, interesting olive oils, and 18-month-aged Parmigiano-Reggiano.
The one food you never get sick of: Eggs -- all breakfast food, for that matter.
What would you tell an aspiring young chef going into the business: Don't. Then if that didn't work, I would tell them to work for three places that they view as the best. I would also say that there are benefits to working for a resort or hotel when young and building a career. You need to see and experience a tremendous amount to begin to understand who you are going to be when you stake your ground. It's an experiential trade, not a theoretical one.
What do we lack/need here in Phoenix: High-end Franco-Vietnamese cooking.
If you had $700 to spend on dinner for two, where would you go: Just for the memories, I'd go to Taillevent in Paris. Or take a picnic to the top of Four Peaks and pocket $650.
If you had $15 to spend on a bottle of wine for a sophisticated friend, what would you buy: 2010 Domaine de Tariquet Ugni Blanc -- Colombard at $8.99.
If you were asked to promote American wines to an audience of dubious Europeans, what would you say: I would say, "Suspend all that you know and prepare for an audacious explosion of fruit, alcohol, and extract."
Nigella, Giada, or Nadia G? I think Giada, but just for lunch.
What should be written on your tombstone: "Poof . . . "
Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with: Josh Hebert of Posh Kevin Binkley of Binkley's Restaurant Lori Hashimoto of Hana Japanese Eatery Larry White of Jr. Lo-Lo's Fried Chicken & Waffles