What’s the one dish you wish you knew how to cook?
I’m a huge fan of nigiri. I kind of look up to the chefs being flawless with the knife; there’s a lot of precision. It’s something I’ve studied, but I don’t think I’m proficient in.
You’ve cooked around the Southeast, but what made you return to Atlanta?
I was moving from Maine and Florida; I worked for the Colony Hotel, cooking back and forth between the seasons. I was ready to make a change, and I was hoping to move to New York or Boston. I landed a job in Boston, but it didn’t open for a few months, so I came back to Atlanta to visit my family. I started working at Miller Union, and on the second day in town I met Nhan [Le], and we quickly became friends over food. I lived in Castleberry Hill, and I got off work at Miller Union, and I asked my landlord for a quiet bar. We were walking to Elliott Street Pub, when we walked by Bottle Rocket (which Nhan used to own), and they invited us in. Five hours later, I stumbled back to my house.
Any crazy stories running Octopus Bar, which is such a late-night restaurant?
One time there was a guy in a bathrobe who came in right when we started to get busy. The guy sits down at this table, and he starts eating off other people’s plates. The guy was wearing a shower cap, so at first we thought he was a super hip dude, but he was just hammered.
What’s your guilty pleasure fast food?
I am a taco addict right now. There’s so many Mexican cooks in the city, and I have a lot of respect for that food, and I’ve learned that a lot of tacquerias are in this town. Supermercado el Sol and Taquería La Oaxaqueña in Jonesboro are my favorites. I order the lengua taco everywhere.
What’s your favorite foodie destination?
San Francisco. My brother lives in Sausalito, and I lived briefly in San Francisco in the summer of 2000, so I go there at least once a year. I love the dim sum, farmers markets, and the oyster farms; you can eat an oyster somewhere and can actually go an hour away to the farm and check it out. I am super lucky and got to go to Chez Panisse for the first time recently. Alice Waters was in Atlanta two years ago, and I got to cook for her in my loft apartment; it was one of the highlights of my life. It was definitely the most nervous I’ve ever been. The Chez Panisse books I started reading when I was 18; when my friends were reading Sports Illustrated, I was reading those. I would relate to them and think, “I can do this.”
Beer, wine, or cocktails?
Cocktails. My favorite is what we call a Nascar at Octopus Bar—short for make me a simple drink right away, and I’ll drink it as fast as I can. It’s tequila, soda, lime juice, and a splash of grapefruit.
You’re drunk. It’s 3 a.m. What would you cook yourself?
Soft-scrambled eggs with whatever is leftover in the fridge—I always like really funky soft cheese. Turn the pan on, get it really hot, butter starts bubble, then pour eggs in, turn it off, and the eggs cook really soft.
Where was the last place you traveled to where you felt out of place?
I lived in Vietnam for four months shortly before Lusca opened. Two months into my trip, I kind of opened my eyes and wondered,”Where am I?” It was an eye-opening experience traveling through Southeast Asia by yourself.
What would you want your last meal on earth to be?
I’ve thought about this a lot. It would be a multi-course meal, starting with raw seafood like oysters, sea urchin, a 20-piece seasonal nigiri tasting; getting into some pasta dishes like fresh pasta with white truffles and butter; grilled meat; fresh vegetables. It would have to be a feast.
I know you hosted a dinner at Cheetah. What would be your stripper name?
Well, if it’s first pet’s name and street, then I’d be Chief Creek. Cooking there was very interesting, definitely something I don’t know if I’d do again. It was just weird. We decided to do really intricate food; it was mostly Duane [Kulers]. It got awkward.
What’s your experience been like going from a late-night pop-up in EAV to an upscale restaurant in Buckhead?
It’s shown me a lot. It’s been a learning experience that I love the energy of a small place that’s kind of loud and food comes out as it’s ready. I came up not cooking that, so my only experience like that was Octopus Bar.
What’s one thing Atlanta is missing?
Better public transportation.
What is your biggest pet peeve?
Chewing gum when talking to someone, especially when someone comes in for a job interview.