■ My mom was an amazing cook. I can still remember the bright yellow cast-iron pot she used for hot fudge and hollandaise sauce. And we had an electric wok for mu shu pork and Mandarin pancakes. She had every Gourmet magazine that ever existed and a hundred cookbooks. Every Sunday as a kid, I would get together with her and my sister and dig through those and her little recipe file, plan out a menu for the week, then we’d all go grocery shopping. When I was like 8, I started being part of the actual cooking. Sometimes Mom would just sit back and let us do our thing. She is the biggest reason I’m where I am today.
■ One of my first jobs was at Olive Garden in Ann Arbor. I was a terrible server because I was super shy and awkward. If I have a stress nightmare, it’s not about cooking; it’s like I’m still a server, running around like crazy.
■ I was working as a server for an old friend when I told him I was going to open a restaurant. He goes, “Don’t do it. It’s terrible.” What if I had listened to him? We’ve gotten to where we are because I’m a risk taker.
■ I remember the exact moment I read Phil Vettel’s review of Scylla. I was standing at the bar when my business partner came running in, holding the newspaper: “Our review came out!” I’m actually getting goose bumps just saying this. We read it together, and I was like, “Oh my God, he gets what we’re trying to do.” Both of us were crying with happiness.
■ When you get a bad review, even on Yelp, it’s like you’re walking down the street and someone who doesn’t even know you looks at you and says, “You suck,” then walks away.
■ I worked for one chef who was a screamer. He would yell at people in an open kitchen, and the guests could clearly hear him. I remember him screaming at one guy: “Did someone pay you to sabotage my restaurant?” Then I worked for some chefs who were super fun, and I was like, This is way better. If you focus on your team and make sure they’re happy, that’s going to trickle down to the guests.
■ When Top Chef first called, I was like, “No, thank you.” The idea of going on TV made me really nervous. But when you get there, you kind of forget the cameras. I had a big viewing party for the finale, then went out celebrating. We walked into a bar and people started cheering like I’d won the Super Bowl.
■ I swam my whole life, and I was on a Masters swim team up until the COVID quarantine. It gave me a competitive nature. I’m always saying to my staff, “Come in every day and just try to be a little better than the day before.” Over the last year and a half, with life throwing so many curveballs at us, I’ve gotten more chill. Sometimes I’m like, “You know what? It’s just dinner.”
■ You would laugh if you saw what I ate. Like last night, I got home and just wanted a snack in bed before I fell asleep. I made little sandwiches with organic blue tortilla chips and my son’s white American cheese slices. It was delicious.