My mentor is Keith Schroeder, owner of High Road Ice Cream & Sorbet in Marietta, Georgia and one of my instructors in culinary school. He taught me to remember that it was just food; that if you take food too seriously you can't enjoy the simplicity of what it is. On the most basic level, he taught me to breathe. If you can't breathe you can't do anything. He is still a mentor because he helps me keep the balance in my life – If I don't have something outside of work that's important to me, I can't do something significant in the kitchen.
The old adage “keep it simple, stupid” is something I learned early on from following Charlie Trotter. Charlie Trotter was the one who said to keep as few ingredients as possible on the plate and focus on those few ingredients. It’s about not overcomplicating or muting flavors. It’s about using one ingredient and finding multiple preparations for that one vegetable or protein instead of adding more pieces to it. It’s about having a strong focus.
My innate personality is to always try to find a way to do something better, so my daily drive will usually be to reflect on what's been accomplished and on how I can continue to improve. It’s about finding something every day that has been accomplished or improved, celebrating that moment and then never settling on that being enough.
I keep my team inspired and motivated by smiling, shaking hands, asking them how their day is going. I am a hands-on teacher, so I think the best way to keep people motivated is to cook alongside them and show that no task is below me. If a boss is a person who directs and a leader is a person who does, I choose to be the leader.
I read, eat and study constantly. I devote a couple hours every week to studying food and ingredients. I walk around the farmer's market and talk to purveyors, but I also study people – what’s attracting them to different restaurants, how the temperature might dictate what they’re in the mood for, how people are dressing that day. I observe to try to figure out how I’m going to make people feel revived by a meal on any given day. I always watch how people eat – how they take butter off of a plate and put it on a piece of bread, what hand they eat with. It changes the way you put food on plates, how you trim or cut something - It’s using observation to modify presentation to match the inclinations and desires of the diner.