What are you drinking right now? Delicious, organic Ethiopian coffee.
Did you want to be a chef when you were younger? I didn’t know. I always cooked, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do necessarily. I wanted to play sports.
You said you played baseball, basketball, and football when you were younger? I was going to play college baseball, but then I tore my rotator cuff. So then I went to audio recording school, because at the time, I wanted to do audio for television, and at that school, the Art Institute, they had a culinary program. So I’d hang out with the culinary kids, and I was still cooking at home. I actually got sick for a while, and I took a semester off. When I came back, I switched my major. After a week or two, I knew it was what I wanted to do.
Were you more interested in cooking or baking at first? Growing up it was baking, but then when I was in culinary school it was cooking. Then I was working – pastry is more of an art form, whereas cooking sometimes is just a grind – with baking, you can use your skills a little more. Like, fine dining cooking is skillful, but baking of any kind is skillful, so it attracted me. Sometimes at the Inn [at Little Washington] I would stay late and help the pastry chefs, help make the bread, in the fall I’d help them make pies. Then at my next job, where I was a sous-chef, our pastry chef quit, and my employer and I worked together to take on that responsibility, and I ended up learning a lot from him.
Here at Blue Ridge Baking Company, we cater to different dieting needs. Do you find it interesting, or a challenge to change and revise recipes to make them applicable to vegans, people who eat gluten free, etc.? At the restaurant, we would have people come in all the time saying they needed vegan or gluten free menus. So, on the fly, we would come up with a dish for them – one that was good, not like a cracker – but yeah, it’s rewarding when you can make something that doesn’t contain the stuff that normally makes it good, but people still tell you that it tastes good.
Do you have any people that you would consider especially influential along your career so far? He taught me wine classes in school – he’s a certified master sommelier. He’s also been a chef, now he’s a restaurant consultant. He got me into competition cooking. If I ever need anything, work related or personal related, he’s there. He gives me opportunities all the time, he’ll call me up and be like “Hey, there’s a 3-Michelin star restaurant in Chicago with an opening, you should work there” – he’s always pushing me.
Do you have a specific favorite Blue Ridge recipe – to eat or to make? I’m a big fan of the GF Brownie. But I’m looking forward to rollin’ out the chocolate cookie, that’s probably my favorite. I’m interested in coming up with new recipes. We’ve taken a few stabs at a cookbook idea as well. Recipe development has been really huge in my career.