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Chef Justin Basta

Chef Justin Basta began working in the industry when he was just a teenager. A New Jersey native, his parents were caterers, and have prepared food served at events put on by the likes of celebrities Winona Ryder and Bruce Springsteen.

"When I was younger, and got into trouble, working the family business was a sort of punishment," admits Basta, who was manning the grill for his parents' catering company, serving anywhere from 70 to 100 people at just 13-years-old.

It was a punishment that became a passion, however. After graduating from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, and Lincoln's Culinary Institute, Basta is currently working on becoming a certified executive chef. Today, he mainly works as a private chef based in Boca Raton, cooking for as many as 15 clients in the height of season.

"Most of my work involves helping people with food allergies, people with certain dietary restrictions, and -- of course -- people who just want to eat something new and different every day," Basta told Clean Plate Charlie during a recent interview.

Basta said he gravitates toward Southeastern and Asian cuisine, and also has a passion for molecular gastronomy. He loves to make his own noodles, and can't live without Thai chili paste. "It goes into almost everything I make -- I've even put it in ice cream." Right now, pine needles are on his radar -- something special for the holiday season, but really "anything new and different."

Before striking out on his own, Basta held several stints at Boca Raton restaurants including Ovenella and -- most notably -- as the sous chef at Mariposa in Neiman Marcus. However, his favorite partnership so far has been working alongside chef Roy Villacrusis during his time at Kapow! Noodle Bar. "He's such a creative and supportive person -- just very inspirational -- and he really encouraged you to experiment. It would be an honor to compete against him." If he gets the chance to compete and wins, Basta said he would like to donate a portion of his winnings to the Deborah Heart and Lung Foundation, as well as the NYU Medical Center.

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