Clifford Crooks is the executive chef of Esquared Hospitality. Hailing from Queens, New York, Clifford oversees BLT Prime, a modern steakhouse in New York City that combines bistro ambiance with steakhouse fare. Chef Crooks has been cooking in NYC’s most prominent kitchens for more than 13 years, including positions at Salute!, Blue Water Grill, and Gramercy Tavern; along with appearing on the second season of Bravo’s Top Chef. In 2012, Chef Crooks was named Corporate Executive Chef, helping to inspire culinary growth and develop new Esquared concepts. But for my next role, I’m hoping to be cast as the owner of a Miami nightclub a la the revival of The Birdcage alongside Nathan Lane. What sparked your interest in cooking & Why? It was straight curiosity. I grew up cooking with my nana—she’s a fantastic cook—and that was the beginning of my child-like curiosity about food in general. What has been your biggest hurdle to overcome getting to where you are today in your career? I believe things are as difficult as you make them. Everything that I’ve gone through in my career has been worth it, good or bad. I think hurdles are opportunities in life to make yourself better. What do you envision for cuisine of the future? More fast-casual restaurants. I see the line continuing to blur between fine dining and more casual service, creating more opportunity to taste things outside of one, formal format. I also think restaurants will expand genres—not just focusing on one type of cuisine or influence. Ideally, what standards do you want to see set for cooking going forward? Hopefully, a return to where chefs actually want to cook and are interested in getting into the kitchen versus raising their public profile. What are your feelings towards the fast food industry and overall cheap ingredients or means of cooking? Fast food is a word that has changed in itself—no longer solely linked to cheap ingredients or unhealthy means of cooking anymore. You can have fast-food that is made with quality ingredients. In my mind, there shouldn’t be a difference or sacrifice based on convenience. What is your favorite dish to prepare? To eat? I love making whole roasted fish. There is a real beauty to roasting a whole fish. Open fire is always preferred. To eat, anything in a sandwich. Do you have a guilty pleasure food? Cookies. All shapes, sizes, I love cookies. What do you want your legacy to be? Still working on that. What culture do you think, generally, has the best cuisine? The most interesting? Asian culture has the best cuisine; I’ve recently gotten into Moroccan cuisine—its been fun to explore its flavors more closely. If you had to pick one: cook new things at home for your family or go out to eat to try new things? Go out. What was your take-away from your Top Chef experience? You always have room to grow… What do you feel is your next role in life as your current job keeps you pretty busy running all the locations trans-atlanticly? It’s been exciting to work on developing the menus and culinary vision for our new fast-casual concepts. But for my next role, I’m hoping to be cast as the owner of a Miami nightclub a la the revival of The Birdcage alongside Nathan Lane.