You were a line cook there?
How was it working at Little Nonna’s?
I liked it. I learned a lot working there. Marcie has a lot of her own techniques, stuff she does and you can see it with every one of her restaurants. With her knife cuts…the way she swipes everything [smears sauces on a plate]…Microplane’s cheese on everything—Marcie’s style is always coming through.
When you’re saying knife cuts, what do you mean?
Well, she juliennes onions like completely transparent. Then we shock them in ice. Not that many places that I see do that.
Why shock them in ice?
It takes some of the zing out. You get the flavor of an onion without the sharpness.
One thing I can say about Marcie too, she’s very very anal about her sauces being super thick. I’ll never forget the first time I worked a lunch shift and the sous at the time let me make a pasta special. I did chicken domani with arugula, plum tomato, chicken stock. Very simple, basic, light. She came in. I was nervous as all hell. I had just started there. She ordered one and I made it for her. She calls me over. She’s like, come here, and I walk over. She tilts her bowl up and at the bottom, it’s just the juice…I didn’t mount it right—or well enough for her. Her spaghetti sauce is really thick and hearty, as opposed to loose and runny. I’ll never make a pasta sauce wrong again [laughs].
And you left there for South Bowl.
Yeah. South Bowl, during my interview process with them, promised me a lot…
What do you mean?
I thought I was hired for the sous job till I got there. In fact, myself and another guy named Josh both thought we were hired as sous chefs. So, it was like they hired an entire kitchen full of chefs but wanted to pay them like they were prep cooks. I was told I’d be making this much…so I left. They promised me a lot. It sounded great.
They promised you the sous chef job and you thought you’d be making sous chef money.
Once I showed up for orientation, I saw there were two sous chefs already–including my friend Jennifer Choplin. I was like okay. At that point, I had already put my notice in [at Little Nonna’s]. I started and then they were like, so he’s what we can pay you, but it’s okay, you’re gonna be working overtime, it’ll make up for it, blah, blah, blah. Well that lasted a week and I was getting 28 hours. I was like, I don’t know if you guys know this, but this is how I pay my bills. So, you know, onto the next one. I was only there for a month and a half.
You mentioned the banh mi. What are some other things you’re excited about cooking at American Sardine Bar?
The banh mi is super tight. Their tuna salad is banging, though it’s probably leaving soon. One thing I really like about Scott and being at Sardine Bar is that local and seasonal sourcing and humanely raised is important. They do a lot of the pickling too. From one farm, they get all their chickens and short rib.
The chickens actually get to walk around and shit?
Yeah. Good chickens.
And they taste way better too. It’s hard to overcook them—especially after brining them.
Yeah, like our chicken salad. It just went on the menu today. We brine them, slow cook them. It’s very herbal. Parsley, scallion, dill, a Dijon base. It’s on a Baker Street onion roll. It’s really simple, but with Scott, the flavors are bold. It works. It’s a simple sandwich but it makes a statement. We had a roast beef French dip that was really good. The Cuban was really good. It’s a lot of sandwiches but they’re monster size sandwiches.
So you’re looking forward to learning from Scott.
Yeah, I plan to stay here for awhile. I can see myself growing here. It’s a good company. Scott knows his stuff.
In addition to American Sardine Bar and South Philly Taproom, there’s more than one place coming soon.
He told me that there’s two projects in the works. One is through the company, the other is his project.
The plan is once he leaves to open the next place, you’re going to run things at American Sardine Bar.
Yeah, I’m gonna be stepping up [to chef de cuisine]. His words are, once I learn to cook like him.
So, the whole learning thing for now.
Yeah, right now I’m just focusing on staying in my lane, taking all my notes, getting down what orders are coming in, what we ordered, how much of each item we use—just how they function on a day-to-day. I’m already doing alright with that after a week. He told me it takes people a lot longer than that to learn the list.
You told me about how you see Scott’s approach to cooking. How would you define yours?
I hate this question because I feel like I can be all over the place. One day, I feel like I’m in the mood to make Italian and the next, something else. I would say I’m more new American fusion. My style, my take on cooking, I like to mesh things from different cultures and turn them into something completely new and different. For example, after MasterChef, we had a pop-up dinner through the guy who does Runaround Sous and The Food Hooch. I did my wontons, a signature dish that got me on MasterChef. I call it a Pennsylvania Dutch wonton. I make my own scrapple and I stuff it into wonton wrappers. A little bit of a Sriracha drizzle. Serve it with giardiniera. A lot of my excitement in coming to Sardine Bar comes from feeling that I thought that this is something Scott would be into.
That you two are on the same wavelength.
Because I was saying, you both seem to have a similar personality. What was it that he said very quickly?
That he could feel us meshing already. After my initial interview, he was like, I interviewed two people and I don’t like them. I like you. I was like I guess that’s a good thing.
Leading up to my stage with him, I was really nervous because he called it a test. He kept calling it a test. Every time he texted me, he was like, ready for the test….Coming in for your test…I was like, you know what, Scott strikes me as the type of guy who is going to give me a Chopped basket. Sure enough, he did. Literally, it was every ingredient lined up to make a Greek salad with a potato. He was pretty basic in what direction he wanted me to go. So, you got everything here to make a salad. I don’t know if you’re gonna make a salad but you can probably make a salad with all those ingredients. That’s totally Scott, his personality.
And you’ve had a chef crush on him for years.
Yeah, totally. He has no idea, I think. I’ve been following him online for seven years. When Sardine Bar opened, I tweeted at him—hey, hook me up with a job. I mean, other people were too. Then the other day,he started following me back on Instagram and I was like, oh, shit. [laughs]
Like the other day. I was like aaahhhhh—Scott finally follows me back now. He posted something about needing a sous chef. I don’t know how many people emailed him, but I know he had no idea who the hell I was.