Fan favorite chef Nate Appleman is no doubt a culinary phenomenon. His move from Pulino’s in New York City (after being named James Beard’s best new chef while at San Francisco’s A16) to Chipotle as its culinary manager left the food world shocked – something that (some would say) has helped his career in many ways.
Appleman – a top three finalist on The Next Iron Chef – rocks a kind of rebel persona that makes him the James Dean of the food world (yes, we’re using that comparison). A heart throb to many a female foodie, he keeps it real while also consistently making health a part of the conversation. Ladies, are you crushing yet?
We hung out with Appleman in the Chipotle test kitchen for a chat, shoot and all around good time. It was almost as good as that Chipotle burrito bowl you’re probably having while reading this…
What would be your ideal food day?
Breakfast: I cook breakfast for my son everyday and his favorite breakfast is avocado toast with eggs, a hint of chile flake and extra virgin olive oil, followed by a kale, ginger, banana, lemon, strawberry and honey smoothie made in my Nutribullet.
Lunch: Something healthy and mostly vegetable and grain based, but definitely not boring. Life is too short to eat bad food. The Taim truck parks close to the office a few days a week and it is a favorite of mine.
Dinner: There is nothing better in life than a burger, fries and a chocolate malt (although fried chicken is a close second). Shake Shack has been filling my craving lately. Speaking of fried chicken, Pies ‘n’ Thighs has it going on – some of the best fried chicken I have ever had.
When you became culinary manager at Chipotle, it shocked people. Why do you think that is?
I think people were a little shocked that a James Beard award-winning chef was getting out of the restaurant business and going to work for a fast food company. I understand why people were shocked, but I have never been one to conform to what others believe to be right. I usually forge my own path. Also, what people may not know, is that when my son Oliver was two years old, he was affected by Kawasaki Disease and developed heart disease as a result. As a parent, that stops you in your tracks and makes you analyze every single thing you have ever done up to that point. I realized that he had not been my priority for the first two years of his life and I was too focused on my career. From that moment on, I decided to make him my sole priority and everything else was secondary.
What do you think you’ve done for Chipotle? What’s different and special about this brand?
Chipotle is not a traditional fast food restaurant. They have single-handedly changed and redefined how fast food is looked at in today’s world. We use real ingredients and classic cooking techniques with the best ingredients possible and are accessible to the masses. As far as what I have done, I am just trying to help push forward food culture in America.
How has the industry changed since you first started?
I started cooking in professional kitchens when I was fourteen. I don’t even think the Internet was around then. Access to ingredients, techniques, philosophy, education, appeal and style have all been rewritten and rethought. It’s almost night and day.
If you could identify three things one needs to work in this industry, what would those three things be?
Work ethic, desire and determination.
What was your most memorable Next Iron Chef episode? Why?
Both of the episodes in which I got kicked off. Because, I got kicked off.
Would you compete on Next Iron Chef again? Do you plan to?
I think two seasons is enough. I would never want to be looked at like one of the lifers on The Real World/Road Rules Challenge 27.