Disclosure: Hugo’s Restaurant and Eventide Oyster Co. are clients of ours, though their representation here has nothing to do with our scope of work with them. In fact, they are helping us out by lending their credibility to our project and we are grateful for that.
Tell us a bit about why you selected mezcal.
I have always really enjoyed tequila and mezcal. There was this "make your own margarita" bar that I would go to that had all of the different ingredients for whatever kind of margarita you wanted. When I started going there, I was making these elaborate drinks and eventually I just started filling the glass with mezcal and ice.
It is a really interesting drink. It is totally delicious. Most American mezcals you see are really smokey with roasted agave. It has Scotch notes and a slight sweetness to it. It is just really, really good. Really good mezcal is something that you can drink on its own.
I assume over time your relationship over time has evolved? Was your first encounter with agave-liquor the same as many other peoples'? Regretful?
[Laughter] Yes, shots. Shots of Cuervo. Definitely. Cuervo Gold ruined me on tequila for a while, but I got past that.
Who do you look up to in your industry?
A lot of people I have worked for, really. Thierry Rautureau and Ken Oringer — I learned so much from them. There are guys like John Thorne and Paul Bertolli. Rob Evans, of course, who I worked for and is a friend and mentor of mine. Then there are thy guys I just admire like Sam Hayward [of Fore Street Restaurant]. Sam has just done an incredible job for Portland and the local food scene. The scene grew up with Hayward and I have a lot of respect and admiration for what him and Dana [Street] did. I also have so much respect for what so many people all across the country have done and for what they're doing.
What got you into the industry in the first place?
Summer jobs, mostly. Before I got into it, I was scooping ice cream when I was 13 or 14. I loved the camaraderie of the industry. I did some front of the house stuff. I worked as a busser, a back server, a server at a diner for a while, and then after I graduated from college I jumped into the kitchen. That's maybe a little bit of a late start in kitchen, but the industry always appealed to me.
From the moment I jumped into kitchens, I knew that I wanted to own my own business. I hear a lot of cooks say that they don't want to do that, that it's crazy to do so, but I think that attitude is crazy.
Is there a secret to running a successful place?
I think the best way to have a successful business is to have worked in successful kitchens and to keep moving up in those roles. I also have only wanted to work in places where people care about food. I have always tried to seek environments where people were as interested in food as I am. When I moved to Portland, I did a stage at [then Rob Evans'] Hugo's and I told me wife—my girlfriend at the time—that it is where I Wanted to be. I just had to work there because people were so interested in food and there was such a curiosity in it. They were always looking for ways to do things better and a lot of places I had been weren't doing that.
Once you get to that, and once you feel comfortable with seeing food in that way, you can open any kind of restaurant — you can open a place that is much more casual than Hugo's. It is not like my sole role is to only own a super-fine dining place, but once you are at that level, and once you have all of the tools you need, you can make whatever you want happen.
NOTE: This interview originally ran in the Summer of 2014.