Throwing down in the kitchen is my meditation. Lining up my mise en place and getting in my zone is the closest I ever get to "living in the moment." It's how I get my mind right. How I stay balanced. I love putting it all on-the-line and cooking with everything I've got while under immense pressure—be it dinner service on a Friday night or a stadium kitchen no-holds-barred cooking competition. My motto is "I'd rather cook with you than against you," but if its for light-hearted fun and/or a good cause, I certainly aint scared of a little friendly competition. Whatever the format, throwing down is MOS DEF my guilty pleasure. I say that to say this: everything I fight for stems from my love for cooking, be it education, sustainability, or philanthropy.
I started learning about food and cooking in the professional kitchen at age thirteen, when I got an after school job cleaning my parents luncheon in downtown Raleigh, and I soon moved on to become a line cook at their neighborhood bar & grill in Chapel Hill. My father was my first teacher, and to this day, is still the best chef I've learned under. Perhaps it's because of his desire to continue learning himself. When I decided that I wanted to attend culinary school, Pops brought me to Hyde Park, NY so that I could tour the campus of The Culinary Institute of America—where I ended up attending. After graduating, my learning became strictly through the craft, be it kitchens, dining out or trade magazines. To this day, I'm fortunate to still have hands-on lessons from great chefs. Although I feel as though I'll never be able to learn enough, I've become very passionate about sharing what I do know. Handing down knowledge is a time-honored human process—one that is certainly vital toward preserving the integrity of my trade. I've taught at inner-city children's homes, private academies, corporate team building events and community driven art centers, but nothing gives me more joy than teaching a young cook how to thrive and create within the four walls of a professional kitchen.
I was exposed to the concepts of sustainability during my studies at the CIA, but it wasn't until I joined the Chefs Collaborative that I truly began to embrace its powerful depth. After realizing what a gem of an organization CC is, I quickly signed my father up, and over the past few years, we've embarked upon a journey of continuing our education on sustainability together. While attending an annual Chefs Collaborative summit in Charleston, SC with Pops, we had the opportunity to attend a panel with Michael Ruhlman and Sean Brock. I asked Sean a pretty lengthy question regarding the future of our craft and the importance of fighting the sustainability fight, and his words still resonate with me to this day. With conviction Sean answered my query with three simple words, "Never give up."
Sustainability and giving go hand-in-hand for so many reasons. In essence, sustainability is all about preserving, maintaining and supporting the natural cycles of life. My brilliant wife Astrid has taught me that we've come a long way from our natural state as human beings. We've certainly shaped the world into an amazing place. Technology and globalization have brought us closer together, but economic and social status often disrupt our ability to live clean, healthy and simple. What does this have to do with sustainability? Well, sometimes sustainability can be achieved by allowing cattle to graze freely upon rich pastures, and other times, sustaining life takes more. That's where giving comes into the picture. I've found that giving is the biggest advocate of sustainability. One must give time, effort, interest, compassion and resources toward the greater purposes of sustainability in order to fully embrace and support sustainability. Two companies that have greatly inspired me to expand my paradigm on what sustainability-and-giving can actually accomplish are Lovin' Spoonfuls and the LA Kitchen. Both are forward thinking food based non-profits that use the power of food to help solve several major injustices regarding food and hunger in America, and both are actively contributing toward bridging the gaps between the natural cycles of life and what we currently endure as citizens of the earth.