Biker Jim on where he'd eat if had only 24 hours in Denver
This is part two of our interview with Biker Jim, chef-owner of Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs. Read part one of the Biker Jim interview.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: Some really good simple Italian restaurants with stuffed peppers, great marinara, fresh pasta -- you know, things like that. It's been so long since I've had that perfect plate of spaghetti with a big ol' meatball and maybe even a savory sausage link; I'm not even sure I've ever had one. I want that with some crusty garlic bread, a fresh salad with a bit of antipasto, and maybe a tiramisu that doesn't taste like it came out of a can -- a place where the waitress would sneak a cigarette in the walk-in with the cook who'd want to try to kill the guy who tried to pass a lamb shank off as osso buco. Where is this place?
What you'd like to see less of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: Boba joints.
Favorite cheap eat in Denver/Boulder: Kokoro Bowl for fast, well-prepared meat, vegetables and rice. It's a nice bowl of tasty, healthful food on the cheap. I used to really like their green-tea cheesecake, and I've always wondered if they had a vending machine in the back that dispenses it.
If you only had 24 hours in Denver/Boulder, where would you eat? I'd start the day at the Original Pancake House, because it's the only place I know of around here that makes sourdough pancakes. Being an Alaskan kid, there are few things for breakfast I like better than sourdough pancakes, and even though these ain't quite the same as the ones I grew up on, they're still pretty damn fine. Lunch is a trip to ChoLon for soup dumplings and beef tartare. Holy crap, that stuff is good. Chef Lon puts so much attention and craft into his cooking, and I don't think there's anyone anywhere who can make a dish better than he. For dinner, it's either Root Down or Linger. Between Justin Cucci's brilliant attention to atmosphere, comfort, fun, and his staff and Daniel Asher's ability to make the most beautifully flavorful dishes, both places are outstanding. My wife is vegan, but me? Not so much. Still, we're both so well cared for and loved throughout our meals that our experiences at both restaurants have never been short of transformative.
Favorite restaurant in America: Sushi Shibucho. It's difficult to call this my favorite restaurant, since I've only been there once, but it kind of is. It's a small hole-in-the-wall sushi joint off of Beverly Boulevard in L.A., and there are like eight seats at the sushi bar and maybe five tables. One woman serves sake or tea, and then there's the old guy behind the bar, who's obviously been making sushi his entire life, since much of it's chronicled by pictures and newspaper clippings papering the walls of him and celebrities like Keith Richards, Michael Cena and Yo-Yo Ma. It's the kind of place where you just put yourself in his hands and he creates exactly what you want. It's just dish after dish of the most perfectly prepared fish and rice and nori and wasabi and gari and, well, you get the idea. And speaking of hands, this guy has knife skills that can only come from living a life behind a bar like this. The blade moves so fast that it's almost as if it isn't moving at all, yet an avocado spreads like a deck of playing cards. I can't think of anywhere I've ever been where you can witness the presence of such simple elegance and perfection of craft. Oh, yeah, bring a few bucks, 'cause...damn.
Favorite dish on your menu: Right now it's the Azteca dog, a carnitas-marinated wild boar sausage with smoked poblano corn salsa and chile-lime mayo. Last week, though, it was our fennel and red-pepper sausage with Blue Moon Dijon cream and red-cabbage sauerkraut. The week before that, it was the rattlesnake-pheasant dog with the harissa-roasted cactus, Malaysian curry jam and onions two ways. I'm so damn fickle. Biggest menu bomb: Blood-sausage sandwich. Talk about a bloody mess.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: Pay attention. You're part of a team that includes the people on both sides of the grill. Customers want to eat your food, and you want to help them feel like they've made a good choice coming here to eat. Feed them good food and they'll help you take care of your kids. Let them know you appreciate them being here and they'll buy you a car, or sell you a car, or cut your grass. Care for your crew and they will love you for it -- and pay your rent.
What's never in your kitchen? I don't tolerate rudeness. I've seen chefs who can't get anything done without being pushy or shouty (You know who you are, Mr. TV Guy), and I've seen chefs who do miraculous stuff with a smile and an attitude of accomplishment. I'll take door number two every time. Door number one? Fuck off.
What's always in your kitchen? We have an open kitchen, so there tends to be a lot of showing off. Our crew is a fantastic mix of raw talent and skill, which means some have raw talent and some have skill. Putting the two together can make for a pretty interesting show. We've evolved to the point where the routine duties are simple, so now comes the fun part. Who can make a really interesting topping for our fries? What is a new marinade for a wild boar sausage? Is a corn salsa appropriate on an alligator brat? Well, yes it is. Can you deep-fry avocado? Damn right you can. The creativity and passion that these guys have for making good hot dogs better is a great thing to be part of. My kitchen always has people thinking about how to make our place and our food better. And, of course, we have plenty of wiener jokes.
Weirdest customer request: A group of customers were once so thrilled with our wieners that they all wanted to marry me. Fortunately, I was able to tell those dudes I was already married.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: A bouillabaisse milkshake. It was fishy, creamy, cold and delicious. So unexpected and so good.
Best recipe tip for a home cook: Don't be intimidated by something that looks difficult. That's why people write cookbooks. Someone has already made most of the mistakes, so you don't have to. Grab Julia Child's The Way to Cook and make yourself the best damn Wellington ever, or a floral arrangement made out of puff pastry. I have tons of cookbooks and have read every one, and while I'm not a trained chef, I can cook some things really well. I have about 150 cookbooks and fifteen years of Bon Appétit magazine to thank for that. Besides, if Isaac Hayes can write a cookbook, you sure as hell can read one -- and make some damn fine food, as well.
One book that every chef should read: Oh, man, I've got to say Kitchen Confidential. If you're a chef, you'll just totally get it. Bourdain expresses the same things that you've felt for years in such a way that you can't help but nod your head and laugh. And if you're not a chef, it'll make you feel better knowing someone else thinks Emeril is a fuzzy little Ewok and Rachael Ray could put frosting in a dog dish and still call it "yummo."
Culinary heroes: Mario Batali, because he shows how elegant simplicity can be in cooking, and Graham Kerr, because he was the first TV chef I used to watch. He showed me how fun it was to be a chef, and how you could woo women with food. Locally, it's James Mazzio, because his ability to cook fantastic food just seems to flow so naturally from him. At the same time, he can make you laugh so hard. He's a genuine culinary rock star with such a big heart that I can't help but love him and his food
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: There are nearly twenty people who make their rent, pay their car insurance and drink margaritas and stuff because I started my hot dog stand a few years ago. I'm a very lucky guy because of the people I've met along this culinary pathway.
If you could cook in another chef's kitchen, whose would it be? Chef Ian Kleinman's kitchen would be fantastic. This guy is Willy Wonka with a John Wayne complex. Not only would following him around open my eyes to a thousand different ways to prepare a dish, but his excitement and childish wonder for food is so contagious that I couldn't help but expand my culinary skills. This is a guy who loves his craft so much that you have to just stare and ask yourself: Where the hell did that come from, and can I have some more, please?
Favorite celebrity chef: Anthony Bourdain. He's a more of a celebrity these days and less of an active chef, but his ability to take the same premise, show after show, year after year and still entertain and educate me and make me wish I were him, is a skill very few people have. How many times can I watch this guy eat and drink himself into a stupor while a Russian cab driver races to take him home to his mother's pelmini and borscht? I don't know: How many more times can he do it before his liver falls out of his ass?
Celebrity chef who needs a muzzle: I'm not sure of his name, but I think his catchphrase is, "Ze fuck, eh?"
What's your dream restaurant? Probably a breakfast joint. I love breakfast and make some really good stuff for that time of day: French toast, sour-cream waffles and milk-fried chicken, buckwheat pancakes with maple syrup and sour cream, reindeer sausage breakfast burritos, espresso, and girls in pajamas sipping mimosas and Bloody Marys. You know, breakfast.
Last meal before you die: Reindeer sausage and sourdough pancakes. Fuck you, death! I want pancakes!
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