This is part two of my interview with Carrie Shores, chef of Table 6; part one of our conversation ran yesterday.
Most noteworthy meal you've ever eaten: I don't remember the name of the place, but it was this small hole-in-the-wall in Carmel that prepared the most amazing double-cut, bone-in pork chop I've ever sunk my teeth into. It was a perfect mid-rare all the way through and served with agrodolce with poached golden raisins and an Acacia honey-and-vinegar sauce. I had a beautifully textured coconut-and-corn soup, too. The combination was simple, but it's stuck with me for more than seven years.
Weirdest thing you've ever put in your mouth: Balut, a developing duck egg that's cooked, alive, in its shell and served warm. When I was in San Francisco, a friend of mine dared me to try it...and I did. It tasted like overcooked scrambled eggs but had a crunchy and slimy texture.
Best recipe tip for a home cook: Learn to expand your horizons beyond what the cookbook tells you to do -- that's how I learned to cook as a child. Make up your own flavor combinations, because, really, the possibilities are endless.
What's your fantasy splurge? That's easy: a sunny day with an oyster shucker, a picnic blanket, some nosh-y foods, good company and a bottle of Chartogne-Taillet -- that's some kick-ass farmer fizz -- at the soon-to-be-gone Drakes Bay Oyster Farm in Point Reyes, California. Oh, yeah, there's also the luxury of being able to know that I can turn my cell phone off.
What cookbooks and/or food-related reading material do you draw inspiration from? I like to go through my old cookbooks from the '50s, '60s and '70s to get some cool ideas. The most notable ones are Betty Crocker and Better Homes and Gardens, and my grandmother gave me her copy of The Joy of Cooking at one point, which I love. And believe it or not, Campbell's published some pretty good cookbooks, too. And we can't forget about the classic roots of American cooking, like church salad, fried-bologna sandwiches and my personal favorite, tuna casserole. Those were the days, when people actually sat down to dinner together.
What recent innovation has most influenced the restaurant industry in a significant way? Getting back to whole-animal butchery, an art that we learned from the forefathers of this country. Hello... I mean, knowing where your food comes from should always be an innovation, plus you get to learn how to break down a whole animal -- and there's nothing cooler than that.
Most underrated Denver restaurant: I'm sure there are quite a few restaurants in Denver that don't get the credit they deserve, if for no other reason than that there are just so many places to eat and so little time to go out and try every one of them. I think every chef hopes to one day become someone whom people appreciate and admire, but unfortunately, not every dog has its day. If I had to pick one restaurant, though, it would definitely be Gaia Bistro, on South Pearl Street. I've been going there for years, and nine times out of ten, everything is spot-on. It's a simple place with simple food that's just my style, plus they offer gluten-free food -- and that's music to my ears. They also have a little garden and smoker in the little courtyard. Kudos to that.
Who's the most underrated chef in Denver? There are a lot of underrated chefs in Denver, and I've worked with quite a few people who would knock your socks off, but I'd definitely have to pick Scott Parker. I know he isn't into media hype and all that shit, but he's the most patient and knowledgeable chef I've ever had the pleasure to work with. He supported my vision the whole time I worked for him, and I know he's going to blow people away with his new venture with Breckenridge-Wynkoop. He's probably going to hate that I chose him, but he deserves it. He could definitely have his own cooking show -- Rush would be playing in the background, and Scott would be cooking some badass food. He should be recognized in cities other than Denver, because he's one incredibly talented chef. Thanks, Scott.
What skills and attributes do you look for when hiring kitchen staff? My biggest things are their ability to work well with others, their willingness to be a team player and someone who can smile through the stress. I also look for people who know when to listen and when to speak, and people who aren't afraid to try new things and be creative.
Biggest mistake a chef can make on the line: Since we have an open-kitchen environment, the way we present ourselves is really important. Customers like to watch, and the last thing we want them to see is something that's going to diminish their dining experience. We have a small restaurant, and some of the tables are very close to the kitchen, and sometimes we can't help but say shit that I'm sure they don't want to hear.
If you could cook in another chef's kitchen, whose would it be? Girl and the Goat, Stephanie Izard's restaurant. She just exudes this positive energy that's infectious, and she seems like a real down-to-earth chef whose goal is to create a vibe that's pleasing to others. She keeps her cool, as well, which is something we all strive for these days, and considering she's a celebrity chef, she seems to be able to keep her head in the right place and not change who she is. I also like the fact that her food is also simple and straightforward. In fact, I'd love to do a cooking competition where I'm her sous chef and get to work one-on-one with her. She definitely has qualities I look up to.
What would you cook for Izzard if she came to your restaurant? I'd start off with some grilled sardines with a warm bacon vinaigrette, then move into some seared porchetta with a fresh heirloom-tomato-and-peach salad, and finish with some of our milk-chocolate beignets with bananas Foster and candied walnuts.
If you had the opportunity to open your own restaurant with no budget constraints, what kind of restaurant would you open? A place where guests could come and have a cup of coffee and some biscuits and watch me break down a pig or make pickles. It would be straight-up, like Grandma's house in the 1920s.
Biggest moment of euphoria in the kitchen: To get through a night with no hiccups or disasters is pretty euphoric.
Craziest night in the kitchen: Definitely Valentine's Day night of 2010. We had lobster on the menu and about 120 reservations, but the lobster didn't show up until 4:30 p.m. and we opened at 5. I was working the grill station, and tickets started coming in while I was killing and poaching and cleaning lobsters -- and simultaneously working on food for other tickets. That was a fun one.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: That's still in the works, but at the moment, I consider every day an accomplishment.
When guests want to thank you for a meal that really wows them, what do you wish they'd send to the kitchen? Just coming up and thanking us is enough for me.
What's one thing that people would be surprised to know about you? I'm gluten-intolerant and have been for many years now. People think it's a death sentence, but it actually makes me want to be more creative. I've even mastered the art of the gluten-free pancake. It's also nice to be able to accommodate customer's needs when it comes to their dietary restrictions.
Your best trait: An open mind. There are challenges that are out of my control every day, and I try not to make a rash decision until I've clearly thought it through.
Your worst trait: Trusting people too easily. I've learned that it's the quickest way to get burned in this business.
What's your biggest pet peeve? Lying and not taking ownership for making mistakes. Everyone has done it at some point or another, but the smart ones just learn sooner rather than later that it's wiser to be honest and suffer the consequences. I think it builds strength and character.
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Last meal before you die: Definitely something with lots of gluten -- and probably a big Italian dinner with stuffed shells, garlic bread, gnocchi and cannolis. I'm a girl from Long Island, after all, and I love my Italian food.
What's always lurking in your refrigerator? Kalona whole-milk cottage cheese, hummus, kefir, homemade curry sauces, eggs, lots of veggies, and condiments of all kinds. I like to have a lot of sauces and basic staples like eggs and cottage cheese on hand, because when I'm tired and have to cook, I want it to be simple and delicious. If you've never had sautéed veggies with fresh-from-the-garden herbs and cottage cheese on top, then you're missing out. The texture of the Kalona cottage cheese, with its full fat and cream on top, is hands-down the best on the market -- and a guilty pleasure. I also have lots of local peaches when they're in season.
If you hadn't become a chef, what would you be doing right now? I'd be an at-home mom to my twelve- and fourteen-year-old kids and probably organizing bake sales for the PTA. I'd also love to be an advocate for LGBT youth. I believe that all youth should be proud of who they are and not fear rejection or punishment from others. I'm a pretty simple person, so when people ask me what I do after work, I tell them I like to read or do crossword puzzles. I always knew that I'd be cooking, but my kids definitely take up the time I have when I'm not here, so it would be natural for me to fall right into a full-time parenting job.