Our kitchen team is a makeup of individuals that bring a range of talents to what we do here. I am our main protagonist and lead our motley crew. I didn't attended culinary school, but have had the immense fortune of having being exposed to a few culinary mentors that have shaped how I develop my education in food. Among them are Joe DePaola, Jimmy Sneed, Chris Ripp, and Lee Gregory - each for different reasons. Joe is a current Chef/Instructor at CIA, The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. He and I sat in an office and test kitchen together for a full year while I watched him develop and write recipes, for subsequent test-kitchen experimentation. He wasn't an instructor at CIA then, but he was most definitely a teacher. He came through Gramercy Tavern in NYC and worked closely with Tom Colicchio before the Top Chef years. Joe was obsessive about details and a passionate cook, but mostly he cared about people. I soaked in everything I could from him and to this day is the most enjoyable person with whom I have ever worked in a kitchen.
Chris Ripp is the Proprietor/Chef at Can Can Brasserie in RVA. He assembled an all-star team for its opening that included a number of prized NYC talent. Somehow, I was lucky enough to be hired to assist in opening that establishment with that group. Chris sent me to New York to stage at Gramercy Tavern, Eleven Madison Park, and Craft (Tom Colicchio's newest project at that time). That experience being in the kitchen with Tom Colicchio, being exposed to Danny Meyer's Hospitality Group seedlings that were set to literally dominate the prestigious James Beard Foundation Awards for the next decade, changed me forever. While Chris and I didn't share the same approach to many things, we did share an absolute appreciation for the highest levels of quality in this business.
Jimmy Sneed and I shared the same sense of humor and vocabulary. Thankfully, that led me to a unique position close to him in a couple of his forays into Richmond restaurants. He semi-paid me as a consultant, I semi-worked for him in that vein, and he always fed me lunch (occasionally dinner) and told me stories of his experience and instincts. Again, and again. Jimmy never stuck around for long and so I can only profess short lived exposure to him, but he is a brilliant chef, and I stole every second of time he allowed me. An early lesson for me from him was simple: Don't screw up good ingredients. Get out of the damn way.
Lee Gregory is a James Beard nominated Chef, that if he wanted to, could be famous. I was lucky enough to be able to consult for one of the restaurants in RVA that he helmed. Lee didn't need my help. Lee's food was, and is, the best food I have ever eaten. And I was fortunate to sit with him on occasions and watch him explain his process in menu and recipe and just talk "shop". Currently, he is the co-owner and Chef at the heralded restaurant The Roosevelt in Church Hill, a neighborhood of Richmond, VA. His approach to food is so without pretension that it can be mistaken for simple at times. Therein lies his brilliance. Lee is above all a family man, who happens to be a brilliant chef.
In addition to these there are many that I rely on to continue to teach me and develop as a business owner, a cook, and to give our guests the best restaurant experience possible - they of course extend to my family & friends, both in and out of the industry, and our tireless farmers and fishermen. But these, if there had to be any, are the mentors that have helped me build what I know of professional food and of professional kitchens.