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Personality Test: Chef Bill Fuller

| Thursday, March 15, 2012

The low profile, anonymous chef seems to be increasingly rare these days. Blame it on the Food Network if you must, but more culinary maestros at fine-dining establishments are expected to cultivate a public profile.

Bill Fuller, corporate chef for the Big Burrito restaurant group, appears to be comfortable in this role. As the guiding hand behind the Mad Mex, Casbah, Soba, Umi, Kaya and Eleven restaurants, he's a culinary Marco Polo, television personality and local food advocate. While he gives talks on the advantages of locally farmed foods, he also draws inspiration from his travels. He's eaten cochinita pibil at Mayan barbecues on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and sampled nouveau fried chicken recipes at ultra-trendy eateries in Manhattan.

He also helps the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and is an advisor to the culinary program at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.

A native of DuBois in Clearfield County, Fuller began his culinary career at 15 at the local Dutch Pantry. He recalls that he moved to breakfast cook on weekends but washed dishes for a long time.

He left home at 18. He studied chemistry at George Mason University in Washington, D.C., before devoting himself to a full-time culinary career. He became corporate chef of Big Burrito in 1997. Whether plating the amuse bouche for a dinner to benefit the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture or cooking striped bass with polenta and rapini on KDKA's "Pittsburgh Today Live," Fuller projects a personality as big as his strapping 6-foot-3-inch frame.

The star who would play me in the movie version of my life and why:

A hybrid of George Clooney and Nick Nolte. Mix the good looks with tortured sensitivity

Childhood hero and why:

Spiderman - Peter Parker is a nerd, but Spiderman is tough. And more tortured sensitivity

Pick one:

A. Go-Gos

B. Goo-Goo Dolls

C. Lady Gaga

D. Yo Gabba Gabba

C. Lady Gaga -- least annoying of the four

The piece of memorabilia from my childhood I wish I still had.

There was a book I read about a dozen times -- "Lost Dog" -- that I wish I had so I could share it with my kids.

The superpower I wish I had in real life and why:

Flying cause it would be way cool and because I am too long for airline seats.

I can't live without my: iPod, cellphone, DVR, or laptop?

iPhone. Humanity's greatest invention. The Pyramids got nothing on it.

My favorite reality show:

Whichever Big Burrito restaurant I happen to be in at the time.

App I wish I could invent:

A filter that checks texts, tweets, emails and posts before they leave my phone.

Favorite brunch food:

Bucatini Carbonara

Favorite guilty pleasure:

Lots of Mineo's pizza. I like it with hot peppers and pepperoni. Please, Mineo's, never publish calorie counts or fat content.

Best mistake I've ever made:

Moved to D.C. at 18 for a girl. Got working in restaurants, going to college. Girl is long gone, but the two things I got started in worked out well.

Something I would do over if I could and why:

I would have taken better care of my body over the years. When you think you are 10 feet tall, invisible, and bullet proof, you are. But all that damage accumulates and comes back at 40.

Pick one:

A. Pirates

B. Penguins

C. Steelers

D. Other

E. I hate sports

C. Steelers -- the organization is a great business model. I learn from them all the time.

My favorite Pittsburgh athlete:

Current - Brett Keisel -- Great athlete, professional, good citizen, sense of humor, humility

Previous - Terry Bradshaw - Great athlete, professional, outspoken, opinionated, and a bit of a jagoff

Top thing on my 'Bucket List' to do before I'm gone:

Hike the Appalachian Trail

In five years, I'd like to:

Take a sabbatical and relax and travel for six months.

My favorite thing about Pittsburgh is:

People, hills, seasons, Steelers, neighborhoods, hiking, rivers

Star I'd like to dance with on "Dancing with the Stars":

Taylor Swift. because my daughter would be too excited

Three people I'd love to have dinner with:

Great-great-grandfather Stanislaw Okinski to discuss why he felt it necessary to change his last name to Fuller; chef Eric Ripert to discuss how he manages all facets of his career, life, and personal philosophy; my mother to show how far I've gotten in the 18 years she has been gone and show her pictures of my kids

My quirkiest inherited trait:


My favorite sandwich, plus fixings:

Italian hoagie, heated in the oven until the bread is crispy, and topped with lettuce, Italian dressing, mayo, potato chips and pickled hot peppers

One word my mother would use to describe me:

Quiet. She wanted me to be a preacher when I grew up.

Celebrity crush:

Emmy Rossum or Jessica Chastain

The oldest thing in my refrigerator is:

Cranberry sauce from Thanksgiving --but I jarred it hot with a fresh lid so it should be sterile.

When I was 10, I wanted to be:

A novelist

Exercise I hate most:

All things "core" -- plank, crunches, sit-ups. Nothing but misery

I'm deathly afraid of:


If I was auditioning for "American Idol," my song would be:

"The Devil Went Down To Georgia."

The first band I saw in concert (when and where):

Grateful Dead, three-day show at Hampton Roads arena, early spring of 1985

The best concert I've ever seen:

Soundgarden, Greek Theatre in Berkeley, Calif., 1994

TV marathon I could watch all day and why:

None. I get too antsy.

Favorite Pittsburgh-area landmark.

The bridges. When I look at these incredible structures, I feel like I live in a city abandoned by giants and repopulated by us.

Saturday mornings you'll find me:

Running kids around, going for a run, gardening

Best new gadget I've tried recently.


The person I'm most often mistaken for:

That mean Bill Fuller that used to be a crazy, angry chef.

The worst advice I ever received:

"Cooking is a sissy job."

In high school, I was:

A total nerd. Massive Dr. Who fan. Poet. Editor of the DuBois Area High School newspaper

The most famous person I ever became friends with:

I hang out with Kristine Sorensen and Jon Burnett on "Pittsburgh Today Live" every other week. They are pretty famous and don't generally throw things at me, so we might be friends...

The movie that always makes me cry:

I'm a tough buy. I don't cry at movies. (Ask my wife)

My most treasured fashion accessory is:

My truck -- 2006 blue Toyota Tacoma TRD. Love that vehicle

What you'll always find in my glove compartment:

A pocketknife, recent speeding ticket, corkscrew

My most embarrassing junk food:

I embrace it all. But I have to admit that not only will I inhale a whole box of Girl Scout Cookies, but I'm apt to open a second one when it's done.

If I wasn't a chef, I'd be:

Three things I love --Cooking/food, writing, chemistry. If I weren't deeply entwined in the former, I'd be living in one of the latter. Barring all these, I'd be a sculptor.

The last book I read:

"Blood, Bones and Butter" by Gabrielle Hamilton and "Underworld" by Don DeLillo. Don, why do you make it so hard to get through some of the pages•

Movie I could watch every time it appears on cable:

...was 'Predator' until I did watch it every time and now can't even look at it.

My favorite Web site:

My most memorable fashion mistake:

Dr. Who scarf and woolen overcoat throughout 11th grade. Why didn't someone stop me?

If I could live my life as someone else, it would be:

Nobody. Really

My childhood nickname was:


My favorite "bad" movie is:

Too many to list. If it's bad and Sci Fi, I'll watch it.

My first job:

After being a paperboy beginning at 10, I started washing dishes at the DuBois Dutch Pantry at 15.

My worst job:

Washing dishes at night at the Mirabou restaurant in Seattle in 1985

My favorite cable channel:

AMC right now. Love "The Walking Dead"

The song that always gets me out on the dance floor and why:

None. Have you ever seen me dance• Not good

Life would be better without:

Varicose veins and sore backs

If I could tour with any two bands, they would be:

Avett Brothers and original Black Sabbath

I never travel without my:

Mechanical toothbrush and GPS running watch

People would be surprised to know that I:

1. Studied Synthetic Bioinorganic Chemistry at UC Berkeley

2. Was an incredibly finicky eater as a child -- to the point of being sickly and malnourished

3. Really don't like going out to eat in restaurants

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