Nicole Roarke, 34, is executive chef at J.A. Heneghan's in Point Lookout, where she also resides.
What's the most surprising thing a customer has ever asked for in your restaurant?
A well-done burger topped with melted mozzarella over linguini with house red sauce. After consuming his "make-believe" menu item, he complained the portion was too small and the meat was too dry.
What would people be surprised to hear that you like to eat?
I love Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and chicken-flavored ramen noodles. On my one day off, the least time-consuming and the most processed, the better. It's against everything I believe in as a chef.
Which Long Island restaurant would you take a chef friend to?
Roots, West Islip: They had me at the chalkboard black origami-style menu. And talk about using trendy, seasonal ingredients in deliciously creative balance. Grey Horse Tavern in Bayport also comes to mind. Chef Meredith Machemer is not afraid to use local ingredients and allows the food to speak for itself.
What's on your kitchen playlist?
Hip-hop and rap is what gets me out of my head and my feet moving. I also like The Beatles and Van Morrison. My favorite CD start to finish is the Fugees' "The Score."
What's the new kale?
Now I am infatuated with black garlic, sunchokes and blood oranges.
What's the last great meal you had?
My sous chef, Michele Walsh, sautéed PEI mussels, red snapper, roasted Peruvian potatoes and zucchini and set it on a bed of kale and topped it with a tomato confit. Even eating it out of a plastic container, it was the best dish I have consumed in months.
How do you dream up a dish?
I begin with culinary magazines, and then I start writing. I always have a clipboard and pen in hand. I start with lists, then columns of proteins and sides and sauces. As I am homing in on a winning dish my eyes widen...I can taste and see and touch the dish. When you cook with your senses, your food comes alive.
Any good food jokes?
As told by my grandmother: "When is a cook not a cook? When she has every take-out menu in her area."
How do you handle staff romances?
The best way for me to handle staff romances is not to start them in the first place. As one of two women in the back of the house and the only eligible bachelorette, I find if I continue to tie my hair back, leave my mascara at home and smell like fryer oil, I'm less of a distraction.
What did your mother say about your becoming a chef?
"Grandpa would have been so proud!"
Who's your culinary hero?
I was star struck when I met chef Jacques Pepin while attending the French Culinary Institute -- especially because he was the first chef I recall seeing on television as a young child.
What's your favorite cooking tool?
The durable, sharp knife, along with killer knife skills, is absolutely necessary.
What's your go-to pizza place?
Tony's in Bayport -- hands down! It's a family-run pizza place I've been going to since I was a teenager in high school.
What seasonal ingredients get you going?
Coming into spring, I'm eager to see the asparagus resemble tree trunks and the sweet English peas as large as marbles.
Other than where your restaurant is located, which town on Long Island has the best food?
I'm pretty impressed with the selection of restaurants in Greenport and Huntington Village.
J.A. HENEGHAN'S TAVERN
* J.A.'S STANDARD $11
Angus Beef Burger, Lettuce, Tomato, Onion & Fries or Coleslaw
* JAMESON BRAISED SHORT RIBS $25
Saffron Risotto, Charred Tomato, Carrot & Pearl Onion Ragout
* BACON WRAPPED FILET MIGNON $29
Gorgonzola Mashed Potato, Caramelized Onion & Roasted Mushrooms
* DIJON CRUSTED PORK CHOP $24
Classic Potato & Cabbage Colcannon
* GUINNESS BATTERED FISH-N-CHIPS $19
Crispy Local Catch, Malt Vinegar Fries & Caper-Dill Aioli
* CRAB CRUSTED SALMON $24
Lemon Risotto, Asparagus & Roasted Red Pepper Coulis
* TIGER SHRIMP AND LINGUINE $21
Saffron-Limoncello Cream, Leeks, Arugula & Sun-Dried Tomatoes
* EGGPLANT & PASTA ROLLATINI $18
Basil Infused Ricotta, Mozzarella, Plum Tomato & Toasted Pine Nuts
* PENNE PASTA & SWEET ITALIAN SAUSAGE $23
Kale, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Red Chili Broth, Shaved Parmigiano & Truffle Oil