Who was your greatest cooking influence?
My mom and dad.
Can I make homemade pasta as fast as you do on your show and cook it straight away, or do I have to let it dry out like my nona taught me when I was a kid?
Cook it straight away—just be careful. It can overcook.
What was the worst meal you've made and for whom?
Late-night fettuccine alfredo for Jim Gandolfini in college...ask him.
I don't keep alcohol in the house. I see it used on many cooking shows, but no one seems to take in account if someone wishes not to use alcohol. Are there other liquid substitutes?
Sure, water or broth. Make sure you use a low-salt broth and add just a squeeze of lemon at the end to tune up the acidity.
What's your favorite music to cook by?
REM, Mozart or Tom Waits.
What would you want your last meal to be?
A very long one—300 courses over many years.
Other than Italian, what's your favorite ethnic cuisine?
Vietnamese or Mexican.
On Iron Chef, after the secret ingredient is announced, do they give you time to plan a menu? Or do you come in with a menu and make adjustments based on what the ingredient is?
What is your favorite ingredient to cook with?
In the fall, acorn squash; in the winter, cabbage; in the spring, ramps; and in the summer, I just like to slice tomatoes and grill corn.