Bite Me

Something to Chew On

When I write about the food at Clair de Lune (1313 East Sixth Avenue), for example, I'm really writing about Sean Kelly, who turned down checks with an awful lot of zeroes and turned away investors because he wanted to cook his own food, not someone else's. When I reference the achievements of Opal (100 East Ninth Avenue), and now Flow (1612 Wazee Street, in the Luna hotel), I'm saluting Duy Pham, who puts in eighteen-hour days in the kitchen, then goes home and dreams about food and menus. When I sit down and talk food with Ian Kleinman from Indigo (250 Josephine Street), I'm yapping with a guy who has more balls than a dozen Macaroni Grill kitchen managers, who cooks what he loves, what he learned from his father, Stephen Kleinman, who's spent most of his life in the business.

When I expound on food, I'm thinking about the folks who understand that it's all about love. It's about those mushy emotions that Fisher spoke of, and some of the darker ones as well: lust, pride, arrogance and obsession near to madness. Watch a chef spend thirty hours babysitting a demi-glace. Watch a champ poisonarde picking fish out at the market, the way he'll finger, sniff and stroke the flesh of a fine shank of o-toro sushi.

And when I talk about food, I'm talking about myself, because everything I eat is tasted through a filter of memory and experience. I know nothing but what I know, and all that I know comes from thousands of meals already eaten, tens of thousands of hours spent cooking and thirty years spent living. Do I love the smell of thyme because of the years I labored as a prep cook stripping it from the stalk? No. I love it because its smell was on my wife's fingers the first time she cooked for me. Do I love lobster because I've been told that lobster is good? No. I love lobster because I once sat beside my parents on a sticky green bench at an outdoor lobster shack in Maine eating lobster that had been pulled from the traps not an hour earlier. To this day, I adore lobster with the pure joy of a ten-year-old boy being told that the appropriate instrument for eating this particular delicacy was a hammer.

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Here's another quote I always keep close at hand, this one from a speech that Theodore Roosevelt delivered at the Sorbonne in 1910:

"It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; ...who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly."

I am that critic. I am that man who does not count, that dumb-ass gawker now standing on the sidelines, pointing fingers when the mighty stumble, applauding when the worthy succeed. I understand that.

But I am also that ten-year-old boy, merrily whacking away with a lobster mallet; the twenty-year-old poisonarde lovingly stroking the tuna belly; the 27-year-old kid smelling fresh thyme on his soon-to-be-wife's fingers; and the thirty-year-old critic, asking only that every cook out there come to the table with the same passion that I've carried from one side of the industry to the other, and the same understanding that when we're talking about food, we're not just talking about food. We're talking about life.

Road trip! When we're talking about food, we can also be talking about politics. This month, the redistricting battle in Texas drove several of that state's Democratic senators across the border into New Mexico, thereby preventing a quorum and a vote on the issue that Democrats are sure to lose. And last Wednesday, five Democrats from the Colorado Senate took off for Albuquerque in a show of support for the wayward Texas eleven. Ron Tupa, Ken Gordon, Bob Hagedorn, Joan Fitz-Gerald and Peggy Reeves all piled into a minivan and -- in a scene that has National Lampoon's Senatorial Vacation written all over it -- made the long drive together, arriving in the Land of Enchantment about nine hours later.

But before they started the engine, they made sure the minivan was well stocked with nothing but Colorado's finest products: beer and peaches.

I'm certain my copy of How to Plan a Successful Political Exiles' Cocktail Party states that the proper gifts to bring when relieving a siege of expatriate Texas politicos are ammunition and funny hats. Of course, I'll bet the beer and peaches went over just fine, too.

Leftovers: Although Denver's proposed no-smoking ban is now on hold, some local spots have taken the law into their own hands. The Hoffbrau Bar and Grill in Lakewood (at 3355 South Wadsworth Boulevard), Lakewood) has gone smoke-free; according to owner John Damico, the decision was a "no-brainer" after he did a little market research. And as of August 14, smoking is banned entirely at the Mercury Cafe (2199 California Street). Owner Marilyn Megenity is pretty excited about it; she actually used the word "yippie!" in her announcement. Twice.

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