factors led you to decide to attend Hudson County Community College?
was accepted there as well as CIA [Culinary Institute of America],
and I really liked the size of the classes, how strict the program
was, and that it was incredibly hands-on, more so than writing
is your favorite memory of the College, in or out of the classroom?
we carved ice and tallow for the NYC restaurant show with Chef
O’Malley and spent the night in the dining room in sleeping bags!
did you become interested in Culinary Arts?
from being a musician, it’s all I’ve ever done; since I was 13, I
cooked in all types of restaurants. It was really helpful for me to
start the program with five years of practical experience under my
did your time at HCCC prepare you for your career/ life now?
from cooking technique, learning proper service, and management
basics, it mostly taught me teamwork, strong work ethic, discipline
(big time), and I feel very well rounded as a chef because of my time
at HCCC. I really enjoyed all of the instructors, they told it like
it is, they treated us, in a way, as they would treat commis [junior
chefs] and chef de parties in their own restaurants, and I liked that
is a typical work day for you?
owning multiple restaurants, plus a little TV, etc. My days are not
really spent cooking anymore, or even operating the day-to-day within
my restaurants. I spend the majority of my time mentoring and
coaching the chefs, working on menu development, putting tighter
systems in place, and a lot of time spent on promoting my brand, and
the brand of the restaurants. This is how you get butts in seats. The
PR brings people in, and the coached chef teams deliver the goods,
which brings people back.
has been the most memorable project you have worked on?
Union [in Pasadena, Calif.] was definitely the most memorable project
for me. I built it from scratch and to see it in so many stages, and
finally where it is today, is really exciting. We are always trying
to push the envelope with the food, but that requires so much else to
be focused – cost controls, organizations, adherence to systems and
recipes, and so many other moving parts. It’s like all the gears in
a watch. If everything is clicking, it tells time really well; if
not, you have to look deep inside to figure out which part is out of
whack, and then get it fixed.
are your biggest inspirations that have impacted your work in some
Burke and Paul Bartolotta mostly. Working with these two amazing
chefs, who have such polar opposite styles of cooking, has helped
push the boundaries (Burke), while maintaining classic integrity and
simplicity (Bartolotta). I also thank Bravo/Brio Restaurant Group for
mentoring me on how to run a sound business; this is something a lot
of creative chefs don’t know how to do, and it’s vital to your
advice would you give to recent HCCC graduates?
with a successful chef/organization and go in lips sealed, eyes and
ears wide open. The issues we face today are people, people and
people. You can’t run a successful restaurant without the right
people, and to be successful in this industry takes time, patience
and repetition. Everyone (me included) wants to jump from one thing
to the next without actually mastering the first thing. You become a
jack of all trades and a master of nothing that way. It’s a hard
pill for most cooks to swallow, but there is so much to being a great
cook and a great chef. Not just knowing how to build flavor!
advice do you have for those students who are just starting their
in a restaurant while you’re going to school. This will do a few
things: it will help you see things more clearly in the classroom,
because you’ve kind of done a lot of what you’re being taught,
which gives you the opportunity to take it to the next level. It also
helps you decide quickly if this is the career for you. It’s an
incredibly tough and unforgiving industry, but we do it because we
love it. I especially love to make people happy – guests and staff.