1. What are the top 5 spices every home chef should have? Chipotle, bay leaf, cumin/coriander, cinnamon and black peppercorns. But really, every home chef should just use more high-quality salt.
2. What is your favorite and least favorite thing to make? Soups and sauces. I love the patience they require and the freedom you have to build a strong background of flavors. I hate making empanadas, chile rellenos and chimichangas – any tiny, tight, time-consuming items that require your hands.
3. What is your favorite thing about Cleveland and what drives you nuts? I love city’s overall support of cinema — from the Cedar Lee and Shaker Square theaters to the Cinematheque to the Film Festival every year. As for my least favorite things… traffic lights, traffic cops and corned beef.
4. If you could cook for one person, real or dead, who would it be? P. Christopher Kelley.
5. You’re having a dinner party, top 5 songs on your play list? Mogwai – Dial:Revenge, Paul Simon – Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard, The Fall – Cruiser’s Creek, Tom Waits – Ol’ 55, and Yo La Tengo – The Hour Grows Late
7. What restaurant do you miss? Genoa Importing Company in Albany. I ate there five days a week in college.
8. What place have Clevelanders yet to discover? 2182 Bistro in Brecksville. I know it’s not exactly a secret, but I think it deserves more attention.
9. What’s your last meal on Earth? A cheese and charcuterie board.
10. Most unusual food you have ever tried? The garbage plate at Nick Tahou’s in Rochester, NY.
11. Most famous person you have cooked for? Ah, the true test of a great chef. I made a sandwich for Tony Shaloub once. How’s that?
12. What’s the inspiration behind the tequila dinners? For me, the tequila dinners allow a certain freedom with food, beverage and service that we don’t otherwise have the time, space or resources for. We get to shut down the restaurant to the public for one night and treat a small group of people to a more precisely thought-out and executed menu. It is what most chefs wish they could do on a nightly basis. You limit the variables, take the decision-making out of the customers’ hands, and hopefully create a memorable experience. I love briefly putting aside the taquitos and fried ice cream and focusing on fresh concepts. Plus, we all get to get drunk on a Wednesday in the middle of winter.
13. Where do you grocery shop? Dave’s Market in Ohio City, unfortunately. West Side Market and Trader Joe’s occasionally.
14. Favorite guilty pleasure when it comes to food? Cadbury Mini Eggs.
15. Any plans to open your own restaurant some day? If I am still cooking in 10 years, I will have my own place. But there is too much to learn and experience before then to promise anything.
16. Anything new on the menu that people should try if they haven’t been in a few months? We are looking forward to a menu change in the spring.
17. If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing? Worst-case scenario: teaching high school English. Best-case scenario: writing and directing movies.
18. If you could be another chef, any chef, for a day, who would it be? It’s probably an obvious answer, but Anthony Bourdain looks to have a pretty sweet life. Eat, drink and travel to exotic places.
19. What is one easy Mexican-inspired dish anyone could make at home? Tostitos chips and salsa.
20. Favorite TV show? HBO’s The Wire is the best show ever on American TV. It is realistic, important, timely, humorous and incredibly intelligent. So you rarely meet anyone who has heard of it. Everyone is too busy watching Rachel Ray make a Triscuit sandwich.
21. What is one thing you would change about your job? I would love if everyone I worked with showed up on time every day – and stopped asking to borrow money. My job would be much less stressful.
22. What is the best plate of food you have ever had? My mom’s sour cream pear pie.
23. Favorite meal from your childhood? The #2 Super Value Meal at McDonalds: crispy chicken sandwich, fries and an orange Hi-C.