Beau Simmons, exec chef of Jonesy's, to Matt Selby: "Chef, you need a dishwasher?"
Part one of my interview with Beau Simmons, exec chef of Jonesy's EatBar, ran yesterday; below is part two of our chat.
Favorite restaurant in America: Longman & Eagle in Chicago, whose motto is "Eat, Sleep, Whiskey." They use local farms, and I've never had a dish that's disappointed me. They do fried chicken and waffles with a can of PBR for brunch -- who doesn't love a place like that? Plus, they have thirty different whiskeys for $3, and they even have rooms upstairs where you can crash if you get too tipsy.
Favorite junk food: Little Debbie Nutty Bars. When I was a kid, I was fortunate enough to have four parents. When I stayed at my mother's house, I had to have wheat bread and turkey sandwiches with carrots and a cup of yogurt in my lunch box. At my father's house, I had white-bread peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with chips and a Nutty Bar. I got the best of both worlds, but nothing sparks up nostalgia for me like a Nutty Bar.
Favorite dish on your menu: My duck-confit posole. I asked my Puerto Rican, Spanish, Mexican and Cuban friends to get me their family's posole recipe, then took a little bit from each version to make my broth, and then added my duck confit with a little touch of white boy and a lot of love, and -- voilà -- you have happiness in a bowl.
What are your favorite wines/beers? Does tequila count? My old man told me a long time ago that if I was going to do something, I should do it right. So why take your time to get a beer buzz when you can get a tequila buzz much faster? I do think that Colorado has a sweet selection of breweries to choose from, and at Jonesy's, we've started a monthly beer dinner with local breweries where we pair five beers with four courses for $45. I've been fortunate enough to work with some great brewmasters in the last few months, and, like chefs, they have so much passion for what they're doing. I like Boulder Beer Company, which has some very unique flavors and creative names for their beers. I use their Kinda Blue for my blueberry white-balsamic dressing that's on the spinach salad. If I actually drink a beer, it's usually something from Oskar Blues. Founder Chris Katechis knows his stuff, and his beer pairs very well with my food, especially the Deviant Dale's IPA.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: Zebra. When I was in Africa, we went to a restaurant called the Carnivore, which was a wild-game place -- and in Africa, wild game consists of wildebeest, zebra, crocodile and ostrich. They had a huge coal-fired pit, and all the sides of meat were strung up like they'd be in a meat locker, and there was a chain-link system that moved the meat manually, so when it was done, they served it on a sword and sliced it off on your plate, serving it with sides of veggies and potatoes. Contrary to popular belief, the meat is not black-and-white-striped.
Weirdest customer request: The one who said, "I brought this from home. Can you microwave it for me?" When I was working at Ocean in Cherry Creek, a woman sees me walk from the host stand back to the kitchen and stops me, so I introduce myself to the table and tell them about the specials, including a wonderful mako shark with Okinawa sweet potatoes and seared baby bok choy. Everyone at the table orders the special except for one lady dressed very elegantly in a evening gown. She turned and looked at me with the most serious face and said, "I brought this from home. Can you heat it up for me in the microwave?" With a fake smile, I said, "Sure, no problem at all. Do you mind if I ask what it is?" She replied, "No, not at all. It's SpaghettiOs with meatballs, my favorite." I looked at her and then at the SpaghettiOs and said with the same fake smile, "I'd be happy to."
What are your biggest pet peeves? I'm a clean freak, maybe even a little OCD. From my kitchen to my home to personal hygiene, I'm a "germaphobe." I try as hard as possible not to touch public doors -- or anything public, for that matter. I wash my hands 200 times a day at work and 100 on my days off, so naturally the same goes for my kitchen. I have new bright lights and gleaming white walls with a wonderful new floor that we scrub hard enough to keep everything bright, sparkling and wonderful. My crew thinks I get too anal, but cleanliness is super-important to me.
What's always in your kitchen? Good music, the right attitude, booze, duck and pork. I always like to pump up my crew for service with some bangin' beats. It gives us the right attitude to get through the night. And the two things that I always cook with -- booze and fat -- are the cornerstones of any delicious and nutritious meal. If those things aren't in your food, I didn't cook it.
What's never in your kitchen? Mice pellets, cockroaches, birds or bad attitudes. What we do is fun, which is why I wanted to pursue this career in the first place. Yes, it gets hard at times, but I know that at the end of the day, we've had some good times at band camp, and that should always put you in the right mood with the right attitude.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: Show up on time, be clean and fresh, work hard and play later...and do it all with a smile.
One book every chef should read: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by Hunter S. Thompson. He saw the world from a point of view that most of us frown upon. But for me, it's exactly how I see the world. If you can gain perspective in your life, you're winning half the battle. That book will take you to the depths of an ether binge and shit you out the backside, saying "What a fuckin' ride!" I think it's good to know your dark side as a chef, but if you take too much from it, that's dangerous; if you take just enough, you'll have a smooth ride. It's the same way in the kitchen every night: We start at five, and at midnight, we say that was just enough, then look back and say, "What a fuckin' ride."
Best recipe tip for the at-home cook: Slow and low. There's no need to blast your food with heat. In the restaurant, food is in demand, and we have to turn and burn and cook with a passion, but I try really hard not to use the full flame. Of course you want your food hot, but that doesn't mean you have to scorch the shit out of it. Copper pots are the best for slow-and-low cooking, because they don't allow you to give them high heat. They demand that you have passion and care for what you're creating so you don't fuck it up.
Culinary heroes: Any dishwasher is my hero. I started in this business by washing blenders at a smoothie shop in 1997, and I worked my ass off to keep those blenders shiny and clean. I've worked hard every day of my career to get to where I'm at -- and it's paid off. I'm sure that most of us started out washing dishes, and look what fantastic talent we have in this city. When I introduce myself at Jonesy's, I tell people I'm the one who keeps the plates clean, and people always giggle. I'll know that I've really made it when my business card says "Executive Dishwasher." That's a true hero.
If you could cook in another chef's kitchen, whose would it be? Matt Selby's kitchen. When I was trying to get into fine dining after working at Old Chicago, I replied to an ad for a sous-chef position at Vesta Dipping Grill, and Matt ended up giving me my very first professional interview in Denver. I knew I wasn't sous material, but I figured I could at least get my foot in the door...wash his dishes, at the very least. I was nineteen, pierced with five extra holes in my head and had long hair and some chin scruff, so, needless to say, I didn't clean up very well. I was nervous as all hell about my appearance and lack of food knowledge, and then this very tall, pierced, tattooed man walks up to me and shakes my hand. The first question Matt asked me was, "What do you like to do for fun?" Over the course of the next hour, he asked me a gauntlet of questions, from life to work, and made me feel like I wasn't such an outcast. I didn't get the job, but to this day, I still ask him if I can wash his dishes. I've had many opportunities to cook alongside Matt Selby at events, but I've never cooked for him in his kitchen. Chef, you need a dishwasher?
Favorite celebrity chef: I don't watch any cooking shows at all, but I've always looked up to Charlie Trotter. I think his perspective on food, business and community is top-notch, and I always look through his cookbooks first when I'm finding inspiration for my menus. I've never eaten at his namesake restaurant in Chicago, but I hear magical tales. I've been told that he hangs velveteen bags over his dining room chairs at the end of service to "put them to sleep." True or not, it's an awesome story to hear and tell, and if a man thinks like that, he's pretty amazing in my book.
Celebrity chef who needs a muzzle: Gordon Ramsay is just obnoxious. If that man would shut up for even ten fucking seconds, I bet the cooks who are too busy listening could be too busy working. I don't watch his show, but for whatever reason, I see him plastered all over the TV with that annoying voice that makes you shudder. If he followed his own advice, I don't think he could cook his way out of a paper bag.
What's one thing people would be surprised to know about you? I collect Cookie Monsters. In fact, I even have one tattooed on my leg. I've been collecting them for about seventeen years, and I think I have around 800 Cookie-Monster items and trinkets. I have ones that walk and talk, ones that wiggle and jiggle, ones that are four feet tall and ones that are one inch small. Let's be honest: All Cookie Monster does is eat cookies all day, which means all he does is smoke weed all day, which, if you ask me, sounds like a wonderful life. Sweet Action Ice Cream makes my own house blend of Cookie Monster ice cream, which you can only get at Jonesy's. My lucky number is three, so it has E.L. Fudge cookies, Oreo cookies, and chocolate-chip cookies in vanilla-bean ice cream with a fudge swirl. I'm not a religious man, but I think it's a little taste of heaven.
What's your one piece of advice to culinary-school grads? Learn Spanish and what a six-pan is. It's important as an American to be bilingual or trilingual, and yet America is one of the few countries that doesn't make it mandatory for us to learn another language. My vatos are my best friends and workers, but that doesn't mean they can always speak English, so I learned to speak Spanish -- and, wow, what a difference it makes. Don't be ignorant; be open to learning and embracing new cultures. As far as a six-pan goes, you'd better figure it out.
Most humbling moment as a chef: I was a sous chef and had a basic starter set of German steel knives that I was using to cut fish for the day. I had just started this new job, and all I wanted to do was impress Chef. Chef came up to me and asked what was in my hand. I told him that it was my fish knife, to which he replied: "This is a piece-of-shit knife. You don't cut my fish with that knife." And then he took the knife out of my hand and threw it down the hall. I was so shocked I couldn't even speak, and then, to add insult to injury, I was sent home for not having a good enough knife. But now I know I have a bad-ass blade to cut his fish, so bring it on, Chef.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: Cooking next to master chef Roy Yamaguchi -- and then cooking his dish for a dinner we did at Ocean -- and then turning around four days later to cook alongside Troy Guard at the James Beard House in New York. I was on cloud nine for eleven days, working around the clock to make sure the kitchen was clean and organized and our crew was ready for Roy. When he arrived, he marinated his pork belly and explained the certain technique he wanted to use. When he was finished, he looked at Troy Guard, who was the exec chef, and told him the belly needed to be flipped every four hours for 24 hours. Then Troy looked at me and asked if I could handle it. Yep, no problem, chef. After a long day, the belly still had fourteen more hours of flipping to do, so I was flippin' pork belly all night, but it turned out perfect, and during service the next night, Roy told me to keep doing what I'm doing. Four days later, I was standing in the James Beard House barely holding my composure while cooking with the fattest smile in the world next to Troy Guard. Life was damn good.
What do you have in the pipeline? My plan was to open my own place at 35 and put those twenty years of experience to the test. We'll see. In the meantime, I really like being a farmer. Leigh has graciously let me use part of her back yard to have a garden for the restaurant, and I didn't hold back when she said yes. I have 56 plants that I grew from seed, along with a raised bed with all kinds of fun root veggies. We've started hosting garden parties with fifty or so people joining us for a magical evening at Leigh's house, where we have four courses from three different chefs. We have four parties already planned and eight different chefs lined up to do what we do best: create great food with passion for our regulars.
Last meal before you die: A whole roasted duck, fresh steamed buns, soft-shell po' boy, shot of tequila and a Nutty Bar. No veggies -- just fat, fried food and happiness, with a little nostalgia, to boot.
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