Born in Germany, Mike Gadd moved to Columbus when he was 3-years-old. Gadd didn’t attend culinary school, instead learning the ropes while working at a who’s-who of Columbus restaurants over the years, from Rigsby’s Kitchen to L’Antibes to Veritas. In 2012, Gadd was named a Columbus Crave Tastemaker while working as a cook at Bill Glover’s Sage American Bistro, and six years later he moved to Silicon Valley to spend a year working and playing in the California climate. After returning to Ohio this fall, the 31-year-old chef was hired by Veritas chef-owner Josh Dalton to run the kitchen at Dalton’s newest venture, Speck Italian Eatery (15 E. Winter St.) in historic downtown Delaware. We asked Gadd about his new gig and how the Central Ohio dining scene has changed since he started working in the service industry.

You’ve worked in a lot of restaurants. What’s the most eye-opening learning experience you’ve had in a professional kitchen?

I would have to say it is a tie between working at Rosendales [the Short North high-end restaurant that closed 10 years ago], where I learned how to use modern cooking techniques, and my four-and-a-half years following that, working at L’Antibes, where I was given the ability to create and really figure out who I was as a young chef.

You moved to California for a year and worked as executive chef at Oak + Violet restaurant in Menlo Park. What drew you out West?

What drew me out there was, by far, the beautiful landscapes, the ocean, and, of course, the warm climate. It was my first opportunity to live and experience somewhere outside Columbus. Besides the high cost of living, the overall experience was amazing!

What type of dining experience are you hoping to provide at Speck?

We are trying to provide a fun and casual dining experience, where you can come as you are. Regarding the food, we want to offer simple and rustic, yet well-executed and flavorful dishes utilizing fresh ingredients and scratch cooking. We also enjoy working with modern techniques for a few outside-of-the-box, playful dishes.

As a chef, how would you describe your vibe in the Speck kitchen?

I like to have fun when I cook! I love what I do and feel lucky that I get to do it every day of my life. So, I try to harness that energy and foster a happy, positive environment for my team and I.

Is this your first time focusing on Italian fare? What’s been the biggest challenge?

This isn’t my first experience with Italian cuisine. I started my career at Rigsby’s when I was 17. My biggest challenge would have to be creating new and exciting ways to present classic Italian dishes or flavors.

As we embark on a new decade, how do you think the Columbus restaurant scene has changed over the past 10 years? 

The rise of amazing ethnic restaurants around the city that are finally getting the recognition they deserve is awesome to me. In my opinion, it shows that diners are open to embracing new cultures, uniqueness and creativity! Columbus needs fewer restaurants all doing similar things and more individuality.

Where do you like to dine out in Central Ohio when (or if) you have a chance?

My favorite places to eat are Bangkok [Grocery & Restaurant], Hoyo’s Kitchen off Cleveland and 161, and—of course—White Castle.