What effect has the popularity of TV cooking shows had on your industry?
A lot more people are educated about food and the choices they make as to where and what to eat. Whereas people 15 years ago were predominantly targeting cheap, quick, easy food, today's consumer understands why that is probably not the best approach.
More people are experimenting with food at home, and not just a grocery store boxed meal. They are cooking real food. Those people have a much greater respect for food, a passion for creativity in food and a greater understanding of what it takes to get it to the table the right way. Alton Brown, Rachael Ray and Paula Deen educate the home cook, inspire people to respect food and intrigue them about it as an industry.
Do you think the public looks at chefs differently now?
Absolutely. You've got guys out there like Michael Symon, David Chang, Anthony Bourdain, etc., that are America's new rock stars. People are intrigued by professionals in the industry now.
What misconceptions do you think TV shows give people about cooking?
The only real misconception is that young cooks see celebrity chefs and decide that's what they aspire to be, but they don't realize that those guys and gals came up through hard work and by doing the prep projects that nobody likes. They didn't walk into a kitchen one day and have glamour.
So you think TV has inspired people to become chefs?
Musicians listened to music, baseball players played baseball as kids, astronauts were curious about the stars and architects liked Legos. Most chefs I know have always been passionate about food. With [TV cooking] being relatively a new trend, I imagine there's a whole generation of chefs that will be inspired by it.
What inspired you to become a chef?
My mom's side of the family is Italian, so everything revolved around eating. Growing up, I would watch my great-grandmother cook all day and do everything by hand. If you didn't eat as much as she would have liked, you would get in her Italian-American accent, "Whatsa matta, you don love me?" My dad owned a restaurant when I was 12, so I got some exposure from that, as well.