Occupation: Executive chef
Where: Sundance Cinema Bar Bistro 608, Hilldale Mall
Why you should go: For dinner before or after a movie, of course.
I hear you've been cooking professionally since you were knee-high to a grasshopper.
I've been in this biz a long time. I grew up in Asheville, N.C., with a single mom and two younger brothers. Grandma's kitchen was a huge part of our lives. I started washing dishes in a restaurant at 14. The chef was very French, throwing pots and pans around all the time, but he was a talented man, way before his time when it came to using local products. He took me under his wing, so that's where I learned the basics.
I thought Madison was the big city when I came here to get away from my small town at 21. I worked for a local T.G.I.F. franchise, then moved to Mineral Point, where I worked at a cool little brew pub, Brewery Creek. It's still there. It was great to get out of corporate and spread my wings. Best of all, everything was local - we got cheese from Hook's, right up the street, and produce from local organic farms.
I've cooked at a lot of places since then. Great Dane. Griglia Tuscany, where I got deep into Italian food working as Mario Maggi's sous chef. I moved on to Dallas, where I opened five restaurants for a Texas bistro icon. Then Mario took an exec chef position at an absolutely stunning Italian restaurant in Florida. I was ready to live by the beach for a while, so I ended up being Mario's executive sous chef.
But my fiancée's from Madison and it was time to move back and settle down. I took a position as a food and beverage director at a local hotel. It wasn't for me. I was pulling my hair out, and I don't have hair to begin with. I heard Sundance was coming to town. I didn't even know they were doing a restaurant, but I went out on a limb and called - and here I am.
Are your creations inspired by cuisine on the big screen?
Yeah, as a matter of fact. We're still running Waitress, and it's all about pie. People would come in after the movie and ask if we had any, so I started making 'em. I do an incredible Key lime pie, and I get a fabulous bumbleberry pie from Elegant Foods in Madison. I'm also pretty proud of my cheesecake. It's very rich without the heaviness of a New York-style cake. It's topped with my own caramel sauce, made with a hint of gray sea salt so you get that blow-away sweet/savory combination.
It's not in the movies, but I'm very fond of the balsamic marinated chicken. It comes with sweet corn spoonbread - my grandma's recipe. People love my pear and gorgonzola pizza, on a very thin traditional crust, garnished with caramelized walnuts and a bit of baby arugula to get that peppery bite. And I make the best crab cakes you'll ever eat. I'll put money on that.
Has Robert Redford tried your restaurant?
He has! He came shortly after we opened. I remember he ordered the seared tuna special, and for dessert the chocolate espresso panna cotta. He said everything was wonderful. Knowing where someone of that stature obviously dines, that's a huge compliment.