Executive chef at Slurping Turtle

Age: 29

Background: Cuschieri cooked as a hobby but pursued a professional music career out of high school. "I was like 24-years-old and decided that I wasn't going to be a rock star ... and decided to go to culinary school," he said. After studying at the Art Institute of Michigan and working at Assaggi Bistro in Ferndale, Mich., he worked a three-month stint at Alinea before taking a job as sous chef at chef Takashi Yagihashi's award-winning Bucktown restaurant, Takashi. Last year, he moved to Yagihashi's more casual River North restaurant, Slurping Turtle.

His cooking style: "I would say fresh, creative and dramatic. … I cook simple food, but there's depth to the dishes. … I would honestly consider my cuisine global cuisine because I take inspiration from everywhere. … I would [also] consider my food Midwest-inspired, because I say that because I like to use Midwest ingredients. … I was born in Detroit, raised in the suburbs of Detroit, I live in Chicago … for me, I totally [have a] Midwest mentality.

His alibi during taping: "It's funny, 'cause we were trying to decide what to tell people, so chef Takashi was joking with me that I should tell people that I'm going to jail. Which is hilarious. If you talked to some of the people that I used to work with, they wouldn't not believe it. We just joked about that, [but] my alibi was I was traveling."

Advice from Takashi Yagihashi, who competed on "Top Chef Masters": "He looked at me the last day before I went and he said, 'Don't forget to have fun. Don't forget to make friends.' I did have fun. I definitely forgot to sometimes. When you get in the moment and you're cooking, you're not exactly thinking about having fun."

Biggest strength: "My ability to work longer and push harder than most people I know. … I know how much I can do, and not all chefs have been pushed to their absolute limit. I knew how hard I could be pushed, how quickly I can move."

Biggest weakness: "My cuisine is like global cuisine, so I didn't always have somewhere to pull from. I would think Japanese one day and Italian the next. … While going in, I felt like that was a strength, I also felt like that could have been a big weakness for me."

Least favorite ingredient: Cilantro. "I appreciate it and I use it, so I really can't say I hate using it because I do use it. I just think cilantro tastes like soap. If someone asked me to eat a handful of cilantro, I'd be like, 'Uh, yeah, I don't think so, that's not going to happen.' "

Guilty pleasure: "Old-fashioned doughnuts, straight-up. I love 'em. I eat 'em for dessert, I eat 'em for breakfast. I know they're junk food and they're not healthy … but they're delicious."

Best food memory: "Growing up eating fresh raspberries with my dad and my mom. We had a raspberry tree in our backyard … [As a kid,] you don't really think about it … but as an adult, as you think about all those little tiny things that make you become a chef … that was definitely one of those things."

When he's not cooking you might find him … playing or listening to music. "Music has definitely been a hobby for me for a long time. … Music is definitely like an escape for me. Reading is [also] a huge hobby."

Off-duty snack: "Definitely the place to go for me is Au Cheval. … [They have] totally good burgers; their food is something you want to eat when you get out of work."

On his pride for Chicago's dining scene: "We're not the biggest food scene in the country, but we are definitely one of the most prominent. It's because we're young and we're progressive and our food scene is pushing the envelope more than any other city, I think. I think it's important that people know, not only are we already on the map, but we're actually trying to push harder."

***

"There's people who cook for a job and cook for a career … and there's people who cook to define who they are and it is who they are. I feel like I am the latter. Cooking defines me. It's not even just cooking, it's anything food-related."

***