What's your biggest pet peeve? Insincerity and laziness. Being a chef is about being true to yourself, to your own style and to your favorite flavors, but it's also about pushing yourself to develop and evolve creatively. Seeing people who are simply unwilling to do the best job they can really bugs the shit out of me.
Biggest compliment you're ever received: As chefs, we thrive on positive feedback, because everything we do is so personal. The food we create and the dishes we put out to our guests are a product of our time and efforts. Every compliment is huge, but we have had a couple of guests say their meal was the best they've ever had in their life. That's been great to hear; it's compliments like that that keep me doing what I do.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? I got a pasta machine from my parents when I was in high school, and we still use that same pasta machine every day in the restaurant.
What are your favorite wines and/or beers? I love 90 Shilling by Odell and the Yeti stout by Great Divide. When it comes to wine, I lean toward pinot noir.
One book that every chef should read: I think chefs should read as many cookbooks as possible. I love all of Thomas Keller's cookbooks, and I think The Herbfarm Cookbook is a great resource for chefs who want to better understand all the different herbs we have and the unique ways of using them. And Michael Ruhlman's books, The Making of a Chef and The Soul of a Chef, give great insight into what it takes to follow this career path.
Best recipe tip for a home cook: Use ingredients that excite you, and the first time you try a recipe, follow it exactly. After you've successfully executed the dish according to the recipe, take a few risks and put your own twists on it.
If you had to grab one piece of kitchen equipment to take with you into a steel-cage match to the death, what would it be, and how would you use it? An industrial-sized Hobart mixer -- the old-school kind. They scare the crap out of me, because they'll rip everything right off. They won't stop; they keep on going. I'd just hide behind it and let it do its thing -- you know, just roll it toward my competitor and let it go.
If you could cook in another chef's kitchen, whose would it be? Ferran Adrià of El Bulli. That guy has such a unique perspective on food and the enjoyment of a meal. Even though I'm not really that into all of the molecular-gastronomy stuff, I'd love playing around and experimenting with all of the different tools he has.