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Food is the center of my universe

First and foremost, my most comfortable place is in my kitchens—at my restaurants or at home. The apron I tie on is inevitably battle-stained with remnants of my creations—both the good and the works in progress. That apron (my shield from the tough moments of the world) reminds me that I’m not afraid to fail as long as I make every effort to succeed.

As a chef, I wake up thinking about food

How will I utilize it that day? Sourcing a new flour to make a fresh, stuffed pasta at my Italian restaurant, Amalfi? Zesting a citrus fruit I picked up at the farmer’s market? Working on a new chile-flecked mayo to slather on a fried chicken sandwich at my burger spot? It’s moments like these that make me realize how lucky I am. I get to start each and every day doing something I love, something I cherish. It’s how I work. It’s how I live my life.

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I took an unconventional path

Over three decades ago, with my GED in hand and a helping hand from a most generous restaurateur, I set out to learn a trade. I was a member of French Culinary Institute’s first graduating class of 1984 and it was there I learned the fundamentals I so needed. That formal education and a three year stint with Chef Jonathan Waxman in the mid to late ‘80’s are the two experiences I point to most when I reflecting about how I got my start. They outfitted me with the confidence I needed to take my own shot.

Over the years, I’ve been able to play out my culinary dreams like an artist — approaching concepts that were speaking to me at that very moment. From the contemporary Southwestern cuisine of Mesa Grill, to the the French-inspired American Brasserie menu of Bar Americain, the salty allure of Mediterranean ingredients at Bolo (and later Gato), a fresh approach to South Jersey Surf and Turf at Bobby Flay Steak, and a kitchen of new discovery that put South American chiles and peppers on my paint brush and fish as my canvas at Shark in Las Vegas: each has been a labour of true love and inspiration. I’m excited to see what happens next.

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