Round two with Tommy Lee, exec chef of Uncle
If you could cook in another chef's kitchen, whose would it be? I'd choose Ferran and Albert Adrià's kitchen because I'm very interested in the actual creative process of how people come up with new ideas.
What skills and attributes do you look for when hiring kitchen staff? Passion, ambition and intelligence. Most people can be taught how to cook a dish, but I want cooks who think about food and question food and want to keep getting better. We have a collaborative environment, and I want to know other cooks' ideas, because you never know where inspiration might come from.
Most humbling moment as a chef: The first week at Uncle was the most stressful and humbling time in my life. I felt way in over my head and had that "Oh, crap" moment, where I felt like I'd made a huge mistake in opening in the first place. I'm still very humble now, because you never know what's going to happen. We could be out of business in a year -- you know, grand opening, grand closing. I don't take success for granted, because I'm aware that come tomorrow, everything could be gone.
Biggest moment of euphoria in the kitchen: Saturdays have started to get crazy. We'll get people lining up outside before we even open, and just minutes into service, we'll have a full restaurant. The crew starts to get focused when they see a small mob of people waiting outside before we open. All the orders are coming in at once, and it's awesome to crush that first turn and get it out of the way. It's a lot of fun when the house is on fire, the music is loud, everyone is in sync and the food looks awesome.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: Definitely opening Uncle. It was a great achievement for me just to help build the restaurant, manage construction, deal with the city and get the doors open. It was a head-smashing process, and luckily I've had the support of my girlfriend, family, friends, staff and a lot of other good people. All the unexpected attention and awards we've gotten this year have been a huge plus, and I'm thankful to have found a niche of customers that embrace the restaurant for what it is.
Describe the biggest challenges facing today's chefs: The cost of food. Using higher quality, local, sustainable, organic and all the other buzzword categories results in significantly higher food costs. A lot of diners don't realize how expensive food is, and the cost of ingredients is only going to increase in the future.
What's one thing that people would be surprised to know about you? That I have no idea what I'm doing.