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Chef Ben Durham, Prime

Executive chef Ben Durham in Prim's wine cellar

Executive chef Ben Durham in Prim's wine cellar on April 3, 2014. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

Ben Durham, 34, executive chef at Prime: An American Kitchen & Bar in Huntington. He lives in Dix Hills.

What's the most surprising thing a customer has ever asked for in your restaurant?

I had one gentleman accuse me of using Sealegs in place of octopus. I assured him it was really octopus but he didn't believe me. I had to Google Sealegs, because I didn't even know what they were.

What would people be surprised to hear that you like to eat?

Spicy beef patties from 7-Eleven.

Which Long Island restaurant would you take a chef friend to?

Salumi in Massapequa. It's a cool little place, not very expensive. I just went there for my birthday and had a big charcuterie board with cured meats and cheese.

What's the last great meal you had?

It was the tasting menu at Momofuku Ko in Manhattan. The dish that really stuck out was the slow-poached hen egg with caviar, onion soubise, vinegar, herb salad, fingerling potatoes. You sit right at the counter, interact with the chefs. They're playing Nirvana. It's a very cool way to eat.

How do you handle staff romances?

I'm usually the last one to find out. The staff tries to hide that stuff from me, but I understand how it works. Even though it's always frowned upon in this business, we work long hours and usually don't socialize with anyone who we don't work with. So it's a tough subject.

What's your worst kitchen nightmare?

My entire staff doesn't show up on a Saturday night.

What did your mother say about your becoming a chef?

She thought it made perfect sense. Her only concern was that I work too hard and don't have enough time for a personal life.

Who's your culinary hero?

I have been inspired by a lot of chefs. But I guess my hero is Grant Achatz [chef-owner of Alinea in Chicago and a leading force in molecular gastronomy]. It is not just because of his cooking but also his battle with cancer and his drive to be the best even while fighting the disease.

What's your favorite cooking tool?

My chef's knife or my Gray Kunz spoons.

What's your go-to pizza place?

Mario's Pizza in Commack. Mostly because they deliver to my house.

What makes a great customer?

Someone who is willing to try new things.

What do you think of reality cooking shows?

I was on "Chopped." It wasn't a very good experience for me. I was the first one chopped. I don't watch any of the shows these days except David Chang's show on PBS, The Mind of a Chef.

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