See also: -- Chef Salad Highlights: The Funny, Astute and Provocative Comments Our Local Chefs Made in 2012 -- Chef Salad Highlights Part II: The Smart, Funny and Sometimes Provocative Comments Our Local Chefs Made in 2012
Favorite kitchen toy: Hands down my Global 12-inch chef's knife; I use it for everything!
Best food memory: This is actually a question I ask when interviewing chefs for a position. Mine is growing, picking, washing and cooking tomatoes for tomato sauce, made from scratch with my grandmother Gertrude and my mom Sylvia. Also, we used to do this applesauce and pear butter in the summer and fall to eat for the entire winter.
Name one favorite local restaurant and the dish you love there: Wright's at the Biltmore, beef tartare. Sorry, it's where I came from and I will always have a special place in my heart for the Biltmore. The tartare itself is my recipe, but it's a dish that's a classic.
Chef from whom you've learned the most: Bryce Statham, who allowed me to be completely creative, gave me the freedom to cook and do things way outside the box. He also taught me about presentations of food, banquet props and the importance of listening to the guests.
Chef you'd like to meet and why: José Andrés. Love his style, attitude and food!
Most important thing you learned at The Biltmore: Profit, motivation of staff and passion for perfection. While there, we had two restaurants in the top-three list on Trip Advisor. The team really executed and had the passion to be the best at what we do for a living. They were all about exceeding the guests' expectations. I love that we continue that here at Royal Palms . . . and then some!
Kitchen in which you've had the most fun and why: In Thomas Keller's kitchen doing a stage. Great experience working with a master!
What do you know now that you didn't 10 years ago?: To be patient, listen to people and take feedback not as an insult but as constructive criticism to make you better. Just listen!
Pet peeve when dining in a restaurant: Slow unengaged service and lack of basic kitchen fundamentals. Hot food should be on hot plates, cold food should be on cold plates.
Local or national chef you admire and why: Local chef Eddie Matney, because he's not a quitter and always contributes 100%. He has done some great things for his team and for the city. Just overall, a top notch chef and human being.
Pet peeve in the kitchen: Chef/cook rebuttals. Think before you speak.
Favorite thing to eat growing up: Okay, I have a problem with these little pies, so they're not even allowed in our house: Hostess Apple Pies. I can easily crush 5 of these in a sitting.
Favorite thing to eat now: Great fruit -- crisp apples, sweet cherries, all types of pears -- Ice cold.
I know your goal is to make T. Cook's menu more playful and fun. How do you plan to achieve that?: First, by separating the bar from the restaurant. Next, more focus on seasonal menus and local partnerships with farms, which will elevate the quality of food product. We don't want to be a restaurant you only visit for a special occasion. You can come multiple times throughout the week to see the new and exciting changes. We are blessed to have been able to hire Christian Giles as the GM for T. Cook's. He's worked for Charlie Trotter for 16 years and his expertise in service and making guests feel welcome are a great addition to T. Cook's moving forward.
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Last meal on earth -- what would it be?: Sad to say, but there would be three items: Mom's meat balls and spaghetti, a Whopper from BK and HANDS DOWN, a whole New York pizza -- greasy cheesy and crispy thin crust!
What should be written on your tombstone?: Love life! Thank God for all you have received in life. Be blessed.
Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with: 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