“Beautiful day out so time for some #ACTRIVIA,” tweeted chef Andrew Carmellini on September 13. “I got brunch for 2 @TheDutchNYC & @LocandaVerde for the first and correct answers. Who knows what this is?”

He linked to a picture of a rectangular aquamarine pellet sitting on his palm. It looked like the chef had broken off one of Gumby’s feet.

“Dishwasher soap pellet?” guessed one of his 7,390 followers. “Black-market Viagra?” tried another.

Answer: cousins de lyon, a French candy made with marzipan, chocolate, and curacao.

How, exactly, does a kid born and raised in Cleveland end up tweeting about obscure French candies to thousands of Twitter followers, and offering brunch at two New York hot spots that he just happens to run? (And yes, one is a James Beard-nominee.)

Carmellini’s path involved training at the Culinary Institute of America, working a weekend gig private-cheffing for governor Mario Cuomo (“He loved braised lamb shanks, because his mother used to make them, and apple pie,” says Carmellini of Sunday night suppers at the Governor’s mansion), staging in Italy and France, working at Lespinasse under Gray Kunz, and eventually running Café Boulud. He now is chef-partner at two of New York’s most poppin’ restaurants and is in the process of opening a third: the hotly anticipated French spot, Lafayette.

Here, “AC”—as he’s known on his chef’s whites— takes us through some pivotal dishes.

This interview has been edited and condensed.