Round two with Paul Nagan, exec chef of Zink Kitchen + Bar
Best nugget of advice for a culinary-school graduate: Know what you're in for; have realistic expectations; work hard; take pride in yourself and your product; make friends, not enemies; don't think any task is below you; learn every station; continue to educate yourself; and read everything you can on the subject.
Weirdest customer request: When I first started cooking, I got a room-service order from a guy who wanted a side salad and an order of fettuccine Alfredo with chicken -- but that wasn't the unusual part. The server went on to explain that the guy had just had major dental surgery, so he couldn't open his mouth or chew. He wanted to know if we could put everything in a blender, pour it in a glass and send it up with a straw. No problem, but it was the first and last time I've made a chicken fettuccine Alfredo/side salad milkshake.
Weirdest thing you've ever put in your mouth: When I was cooking in Vail, we did a lot of wild-game dinners. My chef at the time was an avid hunter -- a "kill it and grill it" Ted Nugent kind of chef. Thanks to him, I've had bear, moose, rattlesnake, antelope, ostrich and alligator. I think he even got a mountain lion once, but I don't remember if I tried that or not.
Best recipe tip for a home cook: Practice, practice, practice. A lot of recipes won't work out, but with practice, you'll eventually become good at fixing them. Not to be sarcastic, but it really is a trial-and-error process. As Thomas Keller says, "You don't own a dish until you've made it 100 times."
Which chef has most inspired you? I can't say that I've had one specific mentor who's molded me into what I am today. I think a better question would be, which three chefs would you like to go out to dinner with? For me, that would be Marco Pierre White, Anthony Bourdain and Jose Andres -- that would be one hell of a guys' night out.
If you could cook in another chef's kitchen, whose would it be? Ferran Adrià. I know El Bulli is no longer open, but it would've been amazing to work there. I saw a documentary about it that was fascinating. The kitchen was more of a laboratory than a kitchen, and there had to have been fifty to sixty cooks in there. I believe they said everyone in the kitchen, with the exception of Ferran and his two or three sous chefs, was interning for free. These were not culinary students; they were all accomplished chefs who were donating months of their time to learn this chef's techniques. His menus consisted of at least thirty courses that played tricks on the eyes, the nose and the tongue. He fused cooking with art and science like never before or since. I'm not well versed in molecular gastronomy, nor do I know what its role will be in the future, but chef Ferran is probably a once-in-a-lifetime prodigy.