Dream: Create a culture that fosters culinary creativity

Dream: Create a culture that fosters culinary creativity

We need to cultivate. We need to look inward. A lot of restaurants, they look outside. [They say], "Oh, this is cool over here." That's nice, but do people want to come to Columbus and have New York food? No. They want to have Columbus food. We shouldn't be trying to play catch-up. We should be doing our own thing.

[Ask] what's indigenous to yourself? I grew up eating Johnny Marzetti. I remember sticking that [sauce] inside a breadstick, and it was one of the best things in the entire world. Now I can turn to that with more technique and refinement and produce something more unique in Ohio. That's creating an experience, not just a meal. [The best chefs] bring their memories, their childhood, their growth into the restaurant. That's what makes them so good. It comes down to being honest with yourself.

If you look at the people who are successful here, it's for a reason. Look at Jeni's. [Jeni Britton Bauer] made flavors she thought were interesting. And, at first, people thought they were weird.

We are not very humble for what we don't have. Big cities, they don't think they are that awesome. Go to Per Se (chef Thomas Keller's New York restaurant), and they treat everyone like God, and they think they're just OK. It's nice to be encouraging, but if there's something wrong, someone has to say it. I had food at a friend's place recently, and it wasn't good. I had to tell him, which sucks. It was like breaking up with a girlfriend. It's not negative. It's realist. No one should be afraid to speak their mind.

People always use the excuse here that we can't open up the restaurant we want because we don't have the staff. I say bullshit. You have to train the staff. Part of being a chef is training the next generation; and honestly, I don't think we're doing that right now. We need to eat more. We need to see more. Young chefs need to get out of the city. You have to see what's going on around you. Stand on the shoulders of giants, right? -As told to Beth Stallings