You were one of the early food alchemists of Top Chef. How did you get into molecular gastronomy?
I kinda just fell into it. I’ve always been a curious cook; when I was a younger chef I was reading about different techniques and how to do things differently. I started experimenting here and there, but it really is just a quest for knowledge.
Anything you’ll do differently after the show?
There wasn’t one moment where I was like, ‘Oh, great, that is how I’m going to write my menu now.’ But definitely, I learned so much about the psychology of food that naturally will seep into the food that I do in my restaurants or how I cook for my family or how I shop and eat as a person.
Do you address the emotions that can be attached to food and eating?
We do tackle in one episode the emotion of eating during game day and how your favorite team can affect the way that you eat or the way that you order food. And being a big sports fan, that was pretty fascinating for me to realize, ‘Yeah, that’s exactly right, when my team is winning or losing this is exactly how I eat, now I know why.’
Is there a point at which you can overthink food?
Simplicity is a really tough thing. Most chefs, even if they’re known to be creative, we’re always really going for something that’s really simple and enjoyable. But I’m a fan of science and technology; if it can make your food better and more delicious and more of an experience, then you should go for it. But at the end of the day, the result should be, ‘Wow, I want to eat some delicious food and I want to feel good about it’ – in that regard, food should be very simple.
Any advice for home cooks?
Home cooks get stuck to following recipes – look at a recipe, it’s great to have a recipe, use it as a guideline. Don’t be afraid to swap out one ingredient, experiment a little, have fun, make it a family affair.
Specifically, one thing that home cooks don’t realize is the power of acidity. Don’t be afraid of a little squirt of lemon or lime or a drip of vinegar – it’s really wakes food up and takes it to that next step. A lot of people talk about the merits of salt and fat, and those are important but acidity really is the key, to me.