Where did you grow up and who or what was your inspiration to start a career in this industry?
I have spent time working in family-owned restaurants for as long as I can remember. My culinary training is not formal (aside from a few classes at CIA at Greystone). My first actual restaurant job was at Costa Azura in Milford, CT where I was a busboy and dishwasher.
What have been some of the biggest challenges in your career?
Barbecue has been one of them – especially Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. There are so many variables in BBQ that can change your outcome. You have to be on your game and ready to account for things like wind, barometric pressure, and outside temperature.
What’s your cooking style and philosophy? And when did your love of BBQ start?
My cooking style and philosophy is to be addicted to sourcing the absolute best ingredients and handling them with the respect they deserve.
My love of BBQ started in my mid 20s. My best friend Frans took the helm of a local BBQ establishment in Westport, CT and I began digging through his kitchen and discovering the intricacies and flavor profiles of different types of meat. It wasn’t until I started at Dino in early 2012 that I really got the BBQ bug and discovered my weak spot – beef brisket!
Why do you think we have seen a major growth in BBQ restaurants or some type of BBQ item added to menus?
BBQ is more than just food, it’s a lifestyle and culture that you can feel when you walk into our restaurants.
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que just rolled out a new menu featuring Tex Mex, Korean, and Caribbean influenced dishes. What was the vision and influence behind these new global ingredients on the menu?
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que has always included a mix of a lot of different types of flavor profiles. We are currently in Miami doing an event and our founder John Stage eagerly took me to where some of our Cuban influences took shape years ago. Most times, the flavor profiles on our menus are a showcase of flavors we love and places we have been that inspire us.
There are always talks of healthier eating. Is Dinosaur Bar-B-Que offering guests any allergen and gluten-free menu items?
We offer a good amount of gluten free options and have just rolled out a few new salads. We also have a new smoked mushroom veggie burger that is being very well received in the restaurants we have debuted it in. So there is something for everyone at the Dinosaur!
What are some of the key pieces of cooking equipment Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is utilizing in the BOH?
Our smokers are the engines that produce our BBQ so they are very important to us. We use J&R Oyler wood-burning pits, built in Mesquite, TX, as well as Ole Hickory pits that run on a combination of gas and wood. In our Stamford location, we char all of our BBQ over live fire in a custom J&R Oyler grill.
What’s your opinion on the elimination of tipping in our industry?
I think it can work in some environments, but not necessarily everywhere. I fully support higher wages for everyone – front and back of the house. I am, however, concerned with raising prices at a time where value perception is so important to success in our business.
What’s the key to building and finding your kitchen staff?
Finding loyal, passionate people is a start. From there, you need to take care of them – not just with money, but with a clear plan of how they can progress to the next level.
What advice could you give our younger chef readers looking to move into an executive role?
Find a concept or restaurant or group of people that you believe in, fully immerse yourself into the food, and never stop learning and growing. Being at this level is more about relationships and the support of a team than about one individual.