Round two with Rod Dupen, chef-owner of Waffle Brothers
Rod Dupen Waffle Brothers 393 Corona Street; 303-733-1212 1707 Lafayette Street; 720-708-5150 1326 College Avenue, Boulder; 303-593-0510 wafflebrothers.com This is part two of my interview with Ron Dupen, exec chef of Waffle Brothers; part one of our chat ran yesterday.
Most memorable meal you've ever had: Right before I was leaving Australia to come to America, we all gathered at a neighbor's house, which has this beautiful back yard in the Australian bush. They had a classic barbecue built into a sandstone rock with a hot plate and fire, and there was plenty of beer and wine, several guitars and didgeridoos for entertainment. We cooked up a seafood bouillabaisse with mussels, squid, prawns and all the fresh fish we'd caught that day, and we barbecued steak, sausages and baby octopus. There were also fresh salads and fruits. We ate, drank and sang into the early hours of the morning.
Favorite Denver/Boulder restaurant(s) other than your own: The Ethiopian restaurant on Colfax -- the one with the green and red exterior. To be honest, I very rarely go there, but I've always enjoyed the flavors of Ethiopian food, and I love that it takes a long time to get served, because it makes you have to converse with the people you're with. I love that it forces you to take time to sit, relax and enjoy.
Favorite cheap eat in Denver: Spicy Basil on South Broadway. The portions are large, there's two-for-one beers every day of the week when you order a main course, and the staff is really friendly.
If you could change one thing about the Denver dining scene, what would it be? I don't know if I would change the Denver dining scene. I think Denverites have a surprisingly versatile palate range when it comes to dining, which is reflected in the number of diverse restaurants that we've seen spring up over the past ten years. As we all know, the restaurant industry is one of the most cutthroat industries around, but the fact that chefs feel confident in opening restaurants that sling everything from crawfish to cotton-candy desserts, regardless of success or failure, seems to be an indication that the Denver dining scene isn't just a Midwest corn, hash and steakhouse city. In my mind, Denver has become its own melting pot.
If you had the opportunity to open your own restaurant with no budget constraints, what kind of restaurant would you open? A Waffle Brothers in the sky? A flying Waffle Brothers? A Waffle Brothers space station with a to-go window?
What skills and attributes do you look for when hiring kitchen staff? We have an open kitchen, so people skills are a huge priority. In addition, we look for people who have simple cutting and chopping techniques, an understanding of sanitary food handling, and a respect for timeliness.
What piece of advice would you give to a young chef? Be naive and humble. You can learn something from everyone, no matter what their background, in this industry.
Describe the biggest challenges facing today's chefs: Rising food costs, an understanding that competition is all around us, and speed and consistency. Most humbling moment as a chef: Our little restaurant has a seating capacity of under 100, and for a couple of months straight, thanks to selling more than 2,500 Groupons, every seat was filled and there was a line around the corner -- which sounds fantastic in theory, but not being able to serve waffles quick enough for all those people was humbling indeed.
What recent innovation has most influenced the restaurant industry in a significant way? I don't know if it's an innovation or more of an adaptation, but I think that having an understanding of people with dietary restrictions has been a huge influence on the restaurant industry. The push toward creating tasty gluten-free and vegan foods in traditionally non-gluten-free and -vegan restaurants is huge. We found that people love to enjoy a great meal with friends without being the odd one out. There's a real social aspect going on here as well that shouldn't be discounted or thought of as "just a trend."
Favorite cooking show? America's Test Kitchen. It sounds boring, but I love how they use a lot of thought and research to turn a good classic dish into something great.
What's always lurking in your refrigerator? Chile peppers.
What cookbooks are you reading, and what are you cooking from them? I'm reading an Australian cookbook all about barbecue that my folks sent to me. It's got some awesome baby-octopus recipes in there and a killer bouillabaisse recipe that I want to try.
Best recipe tip for a home cook: Follow the recipe to a tee first and then explore. Taste it the way it's written and then add your own flavors next time.
What's your biggest pet peeve? There's always something that needs to be done in the kitchen, so when employees stand around talking, doing nothing, I get super-peeved.
Biggest mistake a chef can make on the line: Failing to have everything prepped. The devil is in the details, and in the heat of the moment, not having something prepped can very quickly destroy a great night in the kitchen.
Which chef has most inspired you? He's not exactly a professional chef; he's my old Australian neighbor, Bob Whitlock, who can take anything that's in his cupboard, mix and match it, put it all together and turn it into a gourmet meal. By using simple smell and taste, he can turn nothing into a mouthwatering dish.
If you could have dinner with three chefs, dead or alive, whom would you choose? Rachael Ray, just to prod her about how she became so successful; Bobby Flay, because he's never challenged us for a waffle showdown; and Paul Prudhomme, because I love what he does with Southern food, despite the fact that he uses fifteen sticks of butter in everything he makes.
If you could cook in another chef's kitchen, whose would it be? It would be any kitchen that has more stuff in it than ours, but I'd love to jump into Sushi Den's kitchen and Roscoe's in L.A., because it's famous for chicken and waffles, which we're putting on the menu at the new location in Uptown.
Biggest moment of euphoria in the kitchen: When our Groupon promotion finally ended.
Craziest night in the kitchen: It wasn't so much the craziest night cooking in the kitchen, but back in 2011, we had a car drive through the patio and launch itself through the front window of our restaurant at 1 a.m. Needless to say, that was a crazy night full of middle-of-the-night phone calls, drunk drivers, police detectives, shattered glass and altered operations. In an instant, the first drive-thru Waffle Brothers restaurant was created. Ha!
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: Taking our time with my business partner, John Power, and spending a year and a half to redevelop the waffle into the original Waffle Brothers waffle, then taking that waffle from John's house to the festivals of Denver, to the farmers' market, to a cart on the 16th Street Mall, to a concession stand, to a commissary kitchen, to our first Waffle Brothers restaurant, to opening up our third Waffle Brothers restaurant at 17th and Lafayette in Uptown. What a whirlwind.
What's one thing that people would be surprised to know about you? I've participated in several tae kwon do tournaments, including state, and I'm currently undefeated.
Last meal before you die: Australian meat pie.
If you hadn't become a chef, what would you be doing right now? Enjoying myself and traveling the world. I'm kidding. I'd probably be an entrepreneur of sorts, chasing the dream.
What do you enjoy most about your craft? I love getting up early, going to work, making something people love, and putting a smile on someone's face. Having an open kitchen allows me the privilege of talking to people -- of reaching out and interacting with our guests and getting to know the people for whom I'm cooking.