Tillman's Roadhouse of Dallas is opening a second location in Fort Worth in the Arts District, and I wandered over there today to try to get into the kitchen.

It was a mistake -- I haven't done a thing in the past 10 years of my life that would adequately contribute to my culinary resume to apply for a job at Tillman's.

And yes, it broke my heart. It was like standing in Valhalla and having someone pass you a note that says simply that you have taken the wrong stairs, please leave.

The experience has helped me focus on who I am as a chef, how I got here, and what I want to do with myself now that I have a map (the Tillman's application had essay questions). It may be upside down or sideways, but I've got it . . .

My favorite two questions:

Which chefs have taught you the most about cooking technique? How?

Which chef taught you the most about creativity within boundaries? How?

Years ago I worked for Chef Norbert Robespierre (maybe?) in Ft. Lauderdale, and he is the one who introduced me to French technique.

He was also the first person to label me cook crazy and throw me in a real kitchen.

He was a perfectionist, the type of chef who had to have everything just so.

Most people read about Chef Mario Batali's experiences working for UK Chef Marco Pierre White (Marco famously walked past a pot of sauce and demanded it be redone, without looking at it or tasting it) with disbelief. I smiled and nodded -- been there, done that, and yeah, the third pot was better.

Nobert's sous was Robert somebody, and he was Italian trained. He was a slob, and did sloppy, ugly food, and I once punched him in the face, locked him out the back door and took the window to a standing ovation from the rest of the line.

I likely would still work for Norbert if it weren't for him. Looking back, I should have stayed and taken his job.

Ironically, Robert taught me the most about creativity in cooking.

He was one of those chefs who threw together wildly disparate flavors not because they worked together, but because he had never seen them done.

Usually there was a reason for that . . . 'nuff said.

I like to think I am a creative chef, but I usually try to have a specific dish in mind and twist it.

I was doing my Texas pesto years before I saw it on Chef Dean Fearing's menu. Classic Pesto involves fresh basil, olive oil and pine nuts. I use cilantro, pecans, and a combination of jalapeno, serrano and habanero peppers to add a slow burn and serve it with grilled chicken.

I learned how to make pierogie dough reading Michael Ruhlman's book The Reach of a Chef, in the section about not yet-Iron Chef Michael Symon. It's not a recipe -- more of a list of ingredients and the instruction that you'll know when it feels right. I knew exactly what he meant.

Again I was after a Texas thing, so rather than stuffing my pierogies with mashed potatoes (even purple or sweet), I used a spiced ground buffalo mixture and topped them with a rustic pico de gallo and sour cream. Years later, when Symon became an Iron Chef, I hit his restaurant Lola's web site and discovered he used beef cheeks in his.

Polenta is another one . . . I tried making it from scratch after reading Bill Buford's Heat, about his experiences working for Mario Batali.

I tried adding peppers to give the polenta some heat, much like Mexican cornbread, and it didn't work for me. I use a more traditional, rustic-cut multi-color bell pepper and onion mix in the polenta, which gives it a mild sweetness, and add the burn to the sauce, usually paired with braised beef ribs.

You see the problem with answering the creativity question on the Tillman's application -- I've never been taught to be creative by an actual chef. It was more a process of knowing what I didn't like, and developing my own voice in food.

My strongest influence at the moment is my friend Chris, a chef in Atlanta. We get on Yahoo and talk food and chefs as often as we can, and watch TIVOed Hell's Kitchen episodes with running commentary on the phone. We become friends after I posted a story about one of the kids I work with who brought me an abortion on a plate he was calling a club sandwich, and I threw it at him and made him redo it three times (channeling Marco Pierre White that day).

Chris' style and mine are very distinctly different, but we recharge and temper each other, and I know I've gone in new directions and learned from the experience.

Not the answer Tillman's is looking for, I'm certain.

But somebody somewhere in the DFW Metroplex wants exactly a cook who reads and talks food constantly, likes to try new things, and wants to do and learn all the time.

I just need to find them.