After a shift, what is your favorite guilty pleasure to eat? “I wouldn’t phrase it that way. However, if you’re pressing me on what I would eat, it would be the lime after the salt and tequila.”
Is there one dish you won’t cook? “Anything to do with bologna or broccoli.”
All-time favorite spice. “On a day-to-day basis, since salt is not a spice, I would say a range of chilies. Cayenne, habanero, serranos, and Scotch bonnet chilies are always really good in savory cooking. However, the spice in desserts that’s always good is star anise. It has this Chinese five spice hybrid of clove and cinnamon, which is just fantastic with a sprinkle of cardamom.”
What is your favorite music to listen to while you cook? “So, if I’m going to barbecue, it’s definitely reggae. Otherwise, I like a quiet kitchen.”
Did you grow up cooking as a kid? “Absolutely. Some of my first memories were made in the kitchen.”
What cookbook is your go-to resource for inspiration? “I don’t have just one. I have a cookbook library in my house that does include library ladders. I have tons of antique cookbooks that go back to the 1800s. This weekend my homework is to start studying Senegalese food from West Africa.”
After all these years working in restaurants do you still enjoy going out to eat? “Absolutely. I go out to eat more than I probably should just because for me it’s so nice to sit down for once and be on the receiving end of hospitality instead of dispensing it.”
Is there one chef you’d like to cook with? “I would like to cook with René Redzepi or Ben Shewry.”
Name the all-time best cooking show. “Hands down: Great Chefs produced by John Schoup. It’s from the early ’90s, before the days of the Food Network. Everyone would crowd around the TV at 3 o’clock to see who would be on the show.”
What is the one tool that you always make sure to pack when you’re traveling for business? “Always good to have a handy wine key to open you own bottles of beer and wine.”
Tory McPhail is the James Beard Award-winning executive chef of New Orleans institution, Commander’s Palace.
Interview has been condensed and edited.