Round two with Tommy Lee, exec chef of Uncle
Weirdest customer request: I think asking for non-alcoholic beer is pretty weird. And some people get really mad that we don't serve hot tea.
Weirdest thing you've ever put in your mouth: It's not the texture or taste, because it's actually delicious, but the appearance of mantis shrimp is strange to me. They look like that bug from Men in Black.
If you had the opportunity to open your own restaurant with no budget constraints, what kind of restaurant would you open? If money didn't matter, I'd open a super-traditional noodle shop with eight seats, outfitting it with the nicest equipment and a much larger kitchen than needed so space wouldn't be a constraint.
Best recipe tip for a home cook: Don't learn the recipe; learn the technique.
Craziest night in the kitchen: A few years ago, I was running the kitchen at the Park Tavern in Capitol Hill during a huge blizzard in March. The city basically shut down for a couple days and everyone was stranded at home, but the Park Tavern stayed open, so everyone within walking distance came to the bar. I was there by myself because none of my other cooks could make it in due to the snow. I cooked by myself for a packed bar from 3 p.m. until the kitchen closed at 1 a.m. I ran out of most of the substantial food halfway through dinner, and people were just happy to get anything to eat after that. I made a lot of weird things that night with whatever I had to work with, but that day totally broke me.
Biggest mistake a chef can make on the line: Not having your mise en place. Most of the time when you go down in flames in the kitchen, it's not because of something you did right then and there; it's something you didn't do six hours ago, when you were getting your station ready.
Which chef has most inspired you? Thomas Keller. The French Laundry Cookbook was the first cookbook I read -- and cooked out of -- that didn't dumb food down. Instead, it shows the true passion and dedication for treating ingredients the right way, using the right techniques and striving to cook those ingredients to perfection. I think it also sets a benchmark for other cookbooks because it's also a great read and has amazing photography.
If you could have dinner with three chefs, dead or alive, whom would you choose? Anthony Bourdain, Eric Ripert and David Chang, just because I think it would be a blast.