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"I got my ass kicked, but man, did I learn a lot," recalls Tyler Wiard, talking about the early '90s and his days as a line cook for Dave Query and John Platt at Q's Restaurant in the Hotel Boulderado. He must have been up to the task, because Query pulled him off that line and into the fray of Jax in Boulder before Wiard was eventually lured to Denver by Cliff Young, a former Mile High City restaurateur who opened Napa Cafe and stationed Wiard at the helm.
But while Wiard, now the executive chef at Elway's in Cherry Creek, has spent time in some of the best kitchens in Denver, including the Fourth Story and the original Mel's Bar and Grill, he credits his success to hard work, a passion for cooking...and taking the path of least resistance.
I caught up with Wiard in the bar at Elway's, where he dished on culinary students with attitudes, a horrible experience at Tom Colicchio's Craftsteak in New York, his admiration for Dave Query and Mel and Janie Master, and the very real possibility of more Elway's concepts.
Six words to describe your food: Intense, bold, flavorful, creative, balanced and clean.
Ten words to describe you: Uncompromising, caring, funny, hyper, passionate, creative, curious, intense, giving and cynical.
Culinary inspirations: My wife, Jen, because she really gets what I'm trying to do in the kitchen and she totally appreciates my cooking, some of which I learned from my mom, who was an excellent cook. She made the best fried chicken and roast beef, and she'd let me experiment in her kitchen when I was a kid, which made me love cooking. On the other hand, my dad wasn't into me becoming a chef at all, and it took him a while to come around, but now whenever I cook for him, he really spurs me on and we even cook dinner together. Mel and Janie Master really inspired me, too, by always telling me to read and to buy cookbooks — even the ones you don't think you want to read. They were so instrumental in showing me what great food was and sending me to the best restaurants in the world. And they taught me how to become a better human being. They pissed me off by being so demanding and crazy, but by being that way, they helped me to grow as a chef and in my own personal life. But even before that, back in the early '90s when I was at college at the University of Colorado, John Platt and David Query gave me a job at Q's as a line cook — and those guys kicked my ass. They knew that I was green, but I was also a sponge, and they taught me how to create menus and produce, produce, produce. It was an awesome experience working with such passionate and progressive chefs.
Proudest moment as a chef: When I won the National Pork Award in May of 2008. I had won the state pork competition in December 2007 and went on to San Diego to compete against twenty other regional or state winners, and I won the contest and $5,000. I made cumin-roasted pork loin, braised pork shoulder and a green chile pozole cake with a smooth avocado sauce and red chile. I was completely on my own, while everyone else had at least one or two other people helping out. I knew that the only person I could blame if I screwed up was me, but I was totally in the zone and so in tune with myself that day; I knew I was doing the right thing, that everything was coming together and that there was no second-guessing myself. I have no doubt that being in that state of mind translated into winning.
Favorite ingredient: Any type of onion, whether it's chives, a scallion or a yellow, white or red onion. The onion is the most essential ingredient in my kitchen. Raw, cooked, braised, confited, charred, grilled — it doesn't matter. Onions are the spice of my cooking. There's no way in hell I'd ever make a soup without an onion. I don't care if it was Thomas Keller's soup. If he didn't have an onion in his soup, I'd put one in — I'm not kidding.
Best food city in America: There are more great restaurants in New York than any other city in the United States. San Francisco is up there, too, but New York has absolutely everything. You can get a killer hot dog for two bucks and then go to La Bernardin for one of the best meals in the country.
Favorite music to cook by: Widespread Panic! Their music is so soulful, passionate and groovy. It totally gets me going in the kitchen.
Most overrated ingredient, and why: Lobster. It's so overpriced for the limited flavor you get out of it. I understand that people can eat it all day long, and that's cool, but it's just not my gig. I mean, look at it: It's nothing but a sea roach. I would much rather eat a grilled spot prawn or a poached Mexican white shrimp.
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