I first started getting serious about cooking when I was 14 years old. I went to a vocational high school where I wanted to study meteorology but decided that I would pursue my love for cooking instead. My mom was such a great cook when I was growing up and I was always helping. It’s just something I have always done.
My grandmother was the most influential person in my life. She always knew there were bigger and better things out there for me. She had continuously encouraged me to compete in a cooking competition. After she passed in January 2012, I made a promise to myself that I would put myself out there and compete. It just happened to be a coincidence that HELL’S KITCHEN was holding auditions in Philly, and it is one of my favorite cooking competitions.
The best experience I have from HELL’S KITCHEN is meeting all these other great chefs from around the U.S. This experience provided me a chance to gauge my self-worth and helped me understand my own level of culinary ability. The entire HELL’S KITCHEN experience is unforgettable and unmatched.
The most valuable lesson I learned from Chef Ramsay was his standards and expectations. Chef Ramsay takes no excuses and may get in your face, but it’s only because he expects better from you and brings it out of you. I’ll be able to take his high level of standards and apply them to any job in the future as well as my personal life.
My favorite dish to cook is grilled salmon with a white and yellow peach salsa and bi color corn over wild rice. New Jersey is known for having the best locally grown produce in the summer which makes cooking that much more fun and grilling that much more exciting. This dish has such a great balance of flavor and depth but is also so refreshing during a hot and humid night. And it goes great with either an ice cold beer or chilled white wine.
My surprising secret about my style of cooking is that it’s all on the fly. I never actually have a complete plan or idea when I am going to the grocery store or walking into work. I usually look around and put together a dish as I shop or prep for dinner service. I feel that this keeps me on my toes and keeps my creative culinary mind in shape. Cooking under pressure always seems to motivate and produce something delicious.
My advice for aspiring chefs would be to get an education and work while you are pursuing it. Without my education and without starting out in this industry right away, I never would have gotten to where I am at such a young age. It’s always best to be book and street smart in the culinary world.