By Jamie Swinnerton
By Mark Antonation
By Lori Midson
By Jonathan Shikes
By Amber Taufen
By Cafe Society
By Juliet Wittman
By Jonathan Shikes
Most undervalued ingredient: The bay leaf is the Shane Battier of ingredients; it makes every other ingredient perform better, and used properly, it gives an invisible depth of flavor to everything.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: Show up on time, focus, work clean, be respectful of the food and each other, and no gum-chewing or whistling. And if you have suggestions about how to improve something in the kitchen — a system, a recipe — let me know.
Favorite New York restaurant: Casa Mono. Although it's a tiny, uncomfortable restaurant with perfunctory service, dish for dish, it's the best restaurant in America.
2413 W. 32nd Ave.
Denver, CO 80211
Region: Northwest Denver
One food you detest: Any chain restaurant hamburger or pizza. Domino's is particularly disgusting. Their pizzas are dense, undercooked and buckled with cheap cheese and tomato sauce.
One food you can't live without: I have a wicked sweet tooth, so anything with chocolate and caramel makes me happy, especially a Cadbury Caramello.
Most embarrassing moment in the kitchen: Many years ago, when I was a beginning line cook, I worked in a restaurant where all cooks were encouraged to contribute to the menu. For lunch service, I came up with a prosciutto sandwich special, which I didn't bother to taste before assembling. Halfway through lunch service, the owner, whose name was also the name of the restaurant, came up to the window and told the chef, who was working next to me, that the customers were complaining that the sandwich was dry and tasteless and that he was going to 86 it right away. The chef hung his head and said, "Okay, boss." After the owner walked away, the chef picked up a couple of plates and, without even looking, started winging them in my direction. I learned two valuable lessons that day: Always taste your food, and never make your boss look bad.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: Denver, like the rest of Colorado, has a marvelous beer culture with talented brewers who are as passionate, sophisticated and creative about what they do as any chef or winemaker. So why is it that the food in microbrewery restaurants is so bad? It's unimaginative, made with cheap ingredients and cooked without any love or technique. San Francisco, Chicago and the Pacific Northwest have beer cultures equal to ours, but they also have restaurants where the quality of the food is up to the quality of the beer.
What you'd like to see less of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: Where do I begin? I hate seeing TVs in restaurants, and I loathe sports-themed restaurants and chain restaurants. I've said this before, but nothing saddens me more than the enormous success of steakhouses in Denver. They take a huge chunk out of the fine-dining top dollar, they're reactionary and they stand against everything good — seasonal ingredients, using lesser-known cuts of meat, making everything in-house and in manageable portions — that's emerged in the food world in the last thirty years. And to add insult to injury, steakhouses don't really teach their cooks anything besides cooking steaks to temp and being able to handle volume.
Denver has the best: Pho! I love Pho 95, New Saigon and Pho 79. I've also heard great things about Pho Duy, which I haven't tried yet.
Denver has the worst: Remember everything I said about chain restaurants, steakhouses and the food at microbreweries?
Favorite cookbook: The River Cottage Meat Book, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Most cookbooks cut to the chase with a brief intro followed by a few easy recipes. The recipes in this cookbook don't even start until a couple hundred pages in, so it allows Fearnley-Whittingstall to give us everything about meat — the philosophy, history, science and technique — before he jumps into the recipes. And rather than being truculent about his love of meat, he genuinely tries to understand the vegetarian point of view.
What show would you pitch to the Food Network? Let's Hunt, Kill and Cook Emeril Lagasse. Of course, it would have to be a special rather than a series.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: Deep-fried pregnant anchovies with my foodie friend Robert Pincus, who has a predilection for the offbeat in food. In fact, he once brought me a bottle of Korean moonshine that he acquired in Pusan, which had this indescribably funky swampwater taste that I'll never forget.
Current Denver culinary genius: Genius is as rare in the culinary world as it is anywhere else and can be dangerous when applied to something as homely as cooking, but there are a handful of Denver chefs I respect: Patrick Dupays, of course, for his dedication to his very personal vision of what good food should be; Alex Seidel, for his rock-solid technique; Jen Jasinski, who is the complete package — cook, leader and manager and businesswoman; Sean Kelly, the éminence grise of Denver chefs; and all the anonymous wok-slingers who make this such a great town for Vietnamese food.
You're making a pizza. What's on it? At Olivéa, my favorite pizza has prosciutto, green-olive tapenade and shaved pecorino nero.