Each time I interview a chef I am amazed by the passion each one exudes when talking about their profession. It was no different during my interview with Nedal Mardini, this young chef is full of curiosity and drive, a perfect combination for a chef.
Tell us about yourself.
I was born and raised in Jacksonville. I started cooking with my dad when I was about twelve years old but did not give much thought to professional cooking until eighteen when I started culinary school. While I was going to school, I interned with Dennis Chan from Blue Bamboo and continued to work with my father. That was about the time I realized cooking was what I wanted to do.
Where did you get to culinary school?
I attended FCCJ Culinary Institute, but the bulk of my training was through internships in kitchens around Jacksonville plus I interned with the pastry chef at Ponte Vedra Club.
How long have you been cooking professionally?
Almost eight years, I will be twenty-seven this year and started when I was eighteen.
What inspires you and what is your philosophy when it comes to food?
My inspiration comes from the quality of products, and my philosophy is to extract as much flavor possible without taking away from the ingredients. I don’t have a favorite cuisine; I stick with the classic French as taught in school with Asian influence added in from my time with Dennis Chan.
How would you explain your style of cooking?
Many people say I have a crazy style, one of the chefs I worked with told me I have a “weird way of getting to a great dish.” I don’t always use the most classic way or the most technical way, but the end product has always been good. I am a mixture of my training, classic French from my schooling, Asian from working with Chef Chan and Arabic from my father. I do bring all those together to have my style.
Do you have a signature dish or a favorite dish to cook?
I have a few things I like to cook, not a favorite but I love Foie Gras or a duck breast, and then there is the risotto. I am not a fan of doing the same dish over and over again. I am always looking to do something new and different. I am also a fan of working on the grill, steaks and chicken wings. Cooking out with friends on the weekends is one of my favorite pastimes.
How do you come up with ideas for your dishes?
Much of it is through social media; I follow many chefs on Instagram, but not many cooking shows on TV. I fell they have lost focus on food, but I do like Chefs Table on Netflix plus I also follow many of the Chicago chefs.
What do you most love about your job?
The people I meet, they’re not the average nine to five people and I have learned to love the people I work with as brothers and sisters. We go through a lot daily, everyday something new happens. Even the people you may not like, we get along because we know we have to rely on each other. Kitchen people are a unique breed for sure; I find I thrive in that atmosphere.
What would you be doing if you were not cooking?
I have no idea, I have asked myself that before, and I just don’t know. I get bored very easy, and that’s what I like about the restaurant business. If you become bored, there is always something new to work on; new menus, people coming in and ask for things not on the menu, and we have to make it work. Perhaps working a farm, I would still be close to the food, and I enjoy the outdoors, and woods.
Tell us something about Nedal people would be surprised to know.
I am a sucker for fast food. I love Zaxby’s or Krystal chicks.
Death Row Meal
Duck cooked all ways, Foie Gras, duck breast, risotto, and truffles.