How did you get into the restaurant industry?
My mother was a really phenomenal cook. She was such an amazing cook that she got me into cooking at a very young age. When I was 16, I got a job bussing tables and washing tables at a country kitchen, and I realized that I loved the restaurant industry. I love the people and the environment. I thrive off the organized chaos of the kitchen. It felt like the most natural place for me.
What’s your favorite part about being in the Fifth Group family?
It’s got to be the culture that Fifth Group brings to the hospitality industry. A lot of companies I’ve worked for and restaurants in general don’t put as big of an emphasis on the culture of their restaurants as Fifth Group does, and I think that’s why they’re so successful. To have that kind of support from your restaurant group is massive, and helps me build a better culture and environment in my restaurant. That has always been one of the biggest things I’ve respected about them the most: The dedication to you as a person.
What’s your favorite dish and drink at La Tavola?
My favorite dish at La Tavola would probably be the bolognese just because of how iconic it is for the restaurant. It’s one of the dishes that’s been around since almost the beginning. It’s such a wonderful interpretation, and it’s very indicative of what we do here — housemade pasta. Housemade pasta all within itself is one of the things I like the most and think it differentiates us from a lot of other Italian restaurants. In terms of drinks, funny enough I don’t drink, but I do think the basil lemonada — the fact we make our own lemonade and basil infused vodka — all of those things together are indicative of how we make everything from scratch.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Atlanta. I was raised in Roswell on a farm on my grandmother’s property. When I was 10, we moved to Florida. Georgia and Florida are the two states where I’ve spent most of my life.
What was your favorite dish as a child?
My mom’s chicken and dumplings. Now in hindsight I know why it was so good. She did everything so technically and properly. She poached the chicken and made a chicken stock from it. She handmade the biscuits and poached them in there. She shredded the chicken. Everything was fresh, and her technique was solid. It was so well done. She still makes it for me every now and then. My mom is the best cook I’ve ever met. Her ability to make great food is shocking. Her mother is a terrible cook, but her grandmother was a phenomenal cook who taught my mom how to cook. By the time she was eight she was making dinner for the family.
Name one fun fact about you.
I won best New Chef in Chicago Magazine in 2011. But personally, I’m probably one of the nerdiest people you’ll ever know. I’m huge into computer games and computers. I actually left the restaurant industry for a couple years to do data analytics.
What part of town do you live in?
I live over in Vinings near the Braves stadium. I like it a lot. When I first moved here from Chicago, I moved to Buckhead, but then I realized I could save oodles of money by moving just outside of the city.
What do you like to do for fun when you aren’t working?
Definitely eating out with friends and other people within Fifth Group. One of my biggest hobbies is weight lifting, gym work and also rock climbing. Aside from that, one of the nerdier things I’ll do is play video games with my friends all over the country.
What’s your food-related guilty pleasure?
Absolutely Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Chocolate in general is my guilty pleasure. From a savory perspective, it would be pizza.
What’s your favorite travel destination?
My favorite place that I’ve been to is the Isle of Capri off the Amalfi Coast. That is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to. I also had one of the best meals of my life there just because they plucked the fish out of the ocean and cooked it right in front of us. There was one point where you can take a car up the side of a cliff, so you’re going up a steep incline, but the houses are right there built into the cliffside. When we got to the top of it, there was a massive thunderstorm rolling in over Capri and crystal blue sky across the Mediterranean.
Who is your favorite musician?
Currently that title would go to Eminem. It changes; I listen to music all the time when I cook. The music I tend to go back to is old school rap, especially mid 90s to early 2000s. I’m also a big punk fan like Bad Religion, Sex Pistols & the Ramones.
Describe yourself in three adjectives.
Ambitious, focused, intuitive.
Who inspires you the most in your career?
My mom. She’s from the very beginning has been my biggest supporter and teacher. In terms of who inspires my career from a chef standpoint, there’s a chef that not a lot of people actually know about named Marco Pierre White. He is retired, but he wrote a book titled Devil in the Kitchen and was a famous chef in London in the 80s and 90s. Gordon Ramsey worked for him, and he made Gordon Ramsey cry. That’s the level of badass that this guy was. He got Michelin stars when he was super young. Reading him and Anthony Bourdain — the influence they both had is what made me want to be a chef and understand what it means to be a chef.
If you could invite one person, living or dead to dinner at a Fifth Group Restaurant, who would it be, where would you take them and why?
Anthony Bourdain. I would take him to Ecco. I know of his love of French and European cuisine in general. I met him multiple times. When I was a young cook in NY, he would party with Mario Batali a lot, and Anthony would come in at the end of service, and they’d all go out. A couple times, I’d be in bars with him and get to talk to him a second. I think it’s so sad about the way we lost him, and I’d love to have a one on one to talk about food. It would be one of the most enlightening things that could happen. His view of food was very unique, and I think it would be an incredibly fascinating meal to have.