First word (or words) that comes to mind when you hear “Taste of Summer:”
Fresh, healthy and light food. I love all the bounty of summer—corn, tomatoes, cucumbers…
You can invite three people, living or dead, to your dinner party. Who are they, and what would that meal be?
Definitely my three grandparents who have passed. They had such an influence on who I am and what I’ve become. Food, to me, is about family and hospitality.
What’s your favorite dish to prepare, and do you enjoy eating it as much as preparing it?
I enjoy making summer salads, corn, peppers, farro, cucumbers, tomatoes, chickpeas, lemon, olive oil and basil. Very easy to do and the flavors are amazing.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
What we do isn’t a sprint—it’s a marathon. It takes training and a team mentality to execute day in and day out. If you take the time to mentor, train and empower your staff, your life will be exponentially easier.
Who do you most admire in the food world and why?
For this, I go back to the days when I started cooking. I used to watch Alton Brown on the Food Network and always appreciated his scientific methods on cooking. If you can understand where or when you made your mistake and then grow from that experience, cooking becomes a series of timing and steps. It becomes much easier at that point.
What is going to be the “next big thing” on the East End food scene?
Gluten-free everything. We use Cup4Cup [gluten-free flour] in 90% of our flour items and it works perfectly. Gluten-free isn’t really a new talking point, but the products that chefs have access to have become much easier to adjust recipes.
Tell us a secret…
I like to use colatura anchovy juice in my food. It’s the Mediterranean version of fish sauce.
What’s the oddest request you’ve ever received from a diner?
One time I had someone give me a card with a list of 15 allergies. They couldn’t have any oil, sesame, mushrooms, salt, pepper, soy, eggs, gluten, nuts, peanuts…They asked to be accommodated by us steaming some broccoli and fish. No problem! About 10 minutes after the order was placed, the server came to me and asked if we could add some fries to the order. I told them that we only did fries one way, in canola oil. The guest was fine with that, as long as they didn’t have salt on them.
What’s the ultimate cocktail?
Peach Bourbon Smash—like a mint julep with citrus and peaches.
What’s your comfort food and why?
Granola. It’s come a long way from the health food gravel it used to be. I eat it as a snack instead of ice cream or sweets.
What recent travels have inspired you?
Last spring I visited the Champagne region of France. Wonderful rustic country cuisine, and the flavors were delicious and simple.
What is the most memorable thing you’ve ever tasted?
Durian. I went to Thailand 10 years ago and tasted everything that I could. Durian is infamous for its flavor and smell. I wouldn’t recommend the experience to anyone.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Having cooks, sous chefs and chef de cuisines leave our kitchens and become executive chefs in their own right. Nothing to me is better than mentoring someone and having them succeed in the future.
If you were not a chef, what would you be doing?
Something to do with engineering or science. I love to build, tinker and learn constantly.
What has surprised you most about working in the East End culinary scene?
That all the chefs are a community and so friendly. The suppliers are amazing, especially Braun Seafood.
What is your go-to karaoke song?
The Hollies’ “Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress).”
It’s your last weekend on earth—what’s the menu?
Whole animal roast, pig in a Caja China box. Panzanella salad, Montauk fluke crudo.
We just handed you a glass of bubbly. Make a toast to summer on the East End:
Kicking off our third year at Calissa, we’ve become a part of this wonderful community and look forward to extending our Mediterranean hospitality to all our customers, who we consider family. Cheers!