Being the personally handpicked successor to Master Chef Hartmut Handke speaks volumes about Asa Rodriguez. And the protege has responded to his mentor's challenge admirably. Not only has Rodriguez commandeered a seamless transition since Handke's departure, but he's also developed an ambitious small-plates menu for encore, Handke's long-shuttered and just-reopened upstairs bar.

Being the personally handpicked successor to Master Chef Hartmut Handke speaks volumes about Asa Rodriguez. And the protege has responded to his mentor's challenge admirably. Not only has Rodriguez commandeered a seamless transition since Handke's departure, but he's also developed an ambitious small-plates menu for encore, Handke's long-shuttered and just-reopened upstairs bar.

Fortunately Rodriguez had a rich background to draw on for his new ventures. An Elyria native, he graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, apprenticed under chef Lea Linster at her Michelin-starred restaurant and won the Junior Bocuse d'Or for lamb and fish recipes.

Describe a meal you'd make to celebrate spring.

I would make a fresh morel stuffed with a chicken mousse, and serve it with some green and white asparagus, and a white asparagus cream.

What was the best meal you've ever had?

A 13-course meal at Le Bernardin in New York City. There were just too many courses to list.

What would you cook for President Obama if he visited your restaurant?

I would put together a meal that was supportive of Ohio farmers. If it was in the summer, I would do an heirloom tomato gazpacho and maybe an Amish-raised chicken ballotine, with tourned potatoes and a shiitake-and-leek compote.

What ingredient could you not live without?

Butter makes everything taste better, but you have to keep in mind to use it in moderation.

Cheffing can be dangerous work. Any scary injuries in the kitchen?

I cut my finger on the meat slicer one time really good. I got 10 stitches - it hurt a little.

Are there any foods you won't eat no matter how they're prepared?

Peas. My mother tried to make me eat them when I was young, and they just never stayed down. To this day I still cannot eat them.

What's your favorite cheese?

I love a good Camembert cheese. It's better than brie.