What are your culinary inspirations? Right now, I’m really into Mardi Gras fare. I love looking online and in magazines. I’ve also got a great staff that are fun to work with. I can’t do it all myself, and they’ve all got special skills that come together in the kitchen.
What’s your favorite ingredient? I like basil. It’s a comfort flavor to me. I’ve got an Italian grandmother, and we’ve got an Italian grilled cheese sandwich that’s just roasted garlic goat cheese, pesto and fresh tomatoes. My grandmother always told me, you just need three things: good meat, good bread and good coffee.
What was your best recent food find? San Antonio Taqueria in KCK. They have great street tacos and a green sauce that’s amazing. They have a beautiful peach one, but the guy there has told me not to try it. It’s made with habaneros, so it’s probably too spicy for me.
What’s your favorite local ingredient? That’s really hard. Oddly Correct Coffee is fabulous. Green Dirt has amazing cheese. We sell a lot of Zim’s Hot Sauce. The staff puts that on hummus. It’s so much fun in the spring and the summer. I try to make it to BadSeed and also the City Market then.
What are you experimenting with? Crawfish pies. It’s a lot like chicken potpie. It’s creamy with veggies, this nice creamy roux in a nice puff pastry. It’s all about Mardi Gras here. I love New Orleans for its culture, music and spirit.
What’s one food you hate? I just avoid a food if I don’t like it. I’m not really into processed food. I’m not a frozen-pizza girl. I just wasn’t raised with it. I just think you can take a pita and then throw on some sauce and cheese and you’ve got a pizza.
What’s one food you love? I love Vietnamese food. Hien Vuong in the City Market, they have a nice vegetable pho. I don’t eat a lot of meat. The pho at Hien Vuong comes with fresh herbs, and you can spice up the broth. They’ve also got lettuce wraps with shrimp and a cabbage salad in the summertime that I love. The Vietnam Café has it all the time — it’s just shrimp, peanuts and vinaigrette. I could eat that all the time.
What’s your guilty pleasure? Christopher Elbow. I can identify all of them, just by looking at them. And unfortunately, they’re so close to here. [Laughs.] The salted turtle, though, that’s the one. They’re amazing.
What’s always in your kitchen? Tomatoes. I always have canned tomatoes. I don’t cook that much at home. I’m rarely at home, but I do cook on Sundays. With tomatoes, I can make a soup or a sauce. I tend to lean Italian; that’s my comfort food.
Besides your own place, where do you like to eat out? YJ’s. I love having breakfast there. They have the best breakfast sandwich. I love the Jerusalem Café. Their red pepper hummus, gyro and pita are delicious. And the Aladdin Café, they have a great Greek salad with shrimp.
If you could steal one recipe in town off any menu, which one would you steal? The green sauce at the San Antonio Taqueria. I’ve almost got it figured out. I think it’s jalapenos without seeds and avocado puree, but I don’t understand how it stays so beautifully green. Why don’t the avocados turn brown? I’m always fascinated with the sauces at Asian restaurants, as well. But I have a delicious peanut sauce. It took me forever, and it goes back to when I was in college. My roommates would eat anything, but they said they wouldn’t try another disgusting peanut sauce. It’s taken a lot of tweaking, by the key is no peanut butter.
What’s one book that every chef should read? The Food Lover’s Companion [by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst]. I was looking something up the other day that I was calling a torte, but I just wanted to make sure it was indeed a torte. I’m not very good at describing things on menus; that’s an art. I was at the Green Goddess in New Orelans, and they have the most beautifully written cocktail menu. They way they described this tequila, it was like climbing up a mountain. It was beautiful, like poetry. That’s a skill.
Who’s got the best barbecue in town, and what are you ordering? When people come to town, and it depends on who they are, I either take them to Arthur Bryant’s or Gates. It’s the beef sandwich at Bryant’s that’s bigger than your hread and the mixed plate at Gates. Maybe fries and a strawberry soda, too.
What’s your dream drinking/eating destination? The Virgin Islands — the island of Tortola — where I can sit in a shack and have conch salad and coconut water while doing nothing.
A chef is only as good as … I’m real simple. A meal.