I grew up in a family of doctors, my father is a physician. I went into a pre-med curriculum at Emory University, but it felt like drudgery. I had cooked my entire life and had an aha moment when I realized that I could cook for a living. My parents were very supportive, they saw the passion that I was bringing into it. Passion runs in our family: my dad is a very passionate doctor, the way he talks about teaching and ethics, I’m the exact same way. It’s interesting how similar medicine and cuisine actually are – we’re here to make people happier.
New Orleans cuisine is the only multi-generational native cuisine that is developed in America. It is a beautiful blend of home cooking and professional cooking. The culture there is tremendous, respectful and collaborative. I would advise everyone to go visit and spend some time cooking in New Orleans. I think that now, Atlanta is trying to be like NOLA, we’re figuring out what is a true Atlantan cuisine.
Persevere, even under crushing odds. You will get beat down, you will face failure, you will burn more toasts than you ever should – push through, past the failures. There’s an eternal redemptive quality in our work: we can do better at the next plate, the next shift, tomorrow.
I don’t allow curse words in the kitchen, I believe in “please” and “thank you”. My wife and I are equal partners, we believe in being nice to each other. Kindness is a word that I love – it’s an important trait, especially in the “Me Too” movement.
I want my kitchen to reflect the America that I see. We value diversity – not only of color, sex, religion, and race but also, diversity of opinions, how we think and look at different things as a thriving group of individuals. I believe that if you fix the value system, food will taste better.
Be ready for work: show up sober, focused, and mentally prepared. Have a mental and personal mise en place ready so that you can learn as much as possible. It’s important to know how to organize your work, prioritize and execute. A positive attitude is the number one thing I look for when hiring. The best cook is the best team player, who will be good for the team. My entire career, I’ve been part of a team and I am its chief servant.
Cooking is a lot about doing the same things every day.
You need humility and positive energy to succeed.
Chef George from Mr. B’s Bistro in New Orleans taught me the power of taking responsibility for what you observe. I was responsible for seeing things, even if they weren’t my fault. To be a good team member is to observe. When I was a student at the Culinary Institute of America, a chef took me under his wing and taught me everything about stocks and roasting meat. Chef Jeff Tunks of DC Coast Restaurant taught me to get simpler with my food, focus on why something is on a plate. My goal is to perfectly execute something that is simple and delicious. “Hopkins, you’re gonna leave that there?”, “Don’t burn the bottoms!”, and “Don’t spin the wheel” are pieces of advice I can still hear the chefs tell me in my head.
I look for people who will be loyal to themselves and the team, not me. People of values who will follow through with what they say and do it, who have high expectations: no one will ever say that they want to be number 2 or number 3, you want to be number 1. As my kids would say, I want someone to be “woke”.
I find inspiration by beginning with my family, as a husband and a father. I want to have a good and healthy family, to take breaks to have breakfast or dinner at home with my kids. I’m a home cook first. Chefs didn’t invent food, home cooks did – as chefs, we are stewards of that. I love reading the cheap cookbooks you can find at yard sales, they teach you how real people cook. I’m part of a generation of cooks who started in the home kitchen, we care about our community and our farmers. We’re also here to be active citizens, like Tom Colicchio who I admire for his political actions and commitment to preserving SNAP.
I wouldn’t be able to do my job without Dropbox, we use it to communicate with all of the teams and store every source, from farmers to recipes. It allows us to do our job and is as effective as knives in the kitchen. From an eating standpoint, a spoon is the most important utensil, as we’re always tasting. I tell my cooks that they need to constantly taste – if it doesn’t taste good to you, it’s not going to taste good to anyone else.
Escoffier's Le Guide Culinaire truly is one of the great tomes of professional cooking: Escoffier was the organizer of chefs, he codified recipes, set up a professional system, the brigade, that could be transferred to others. It’s over a century old and is just as relevant today and tomorrow. I also own three editions of Le Larousse Gastronomique. They speak to the professional aspect of what it is that we do, they’re the Jedi Knights of food.