Drew Middleton, exec chef of Gaia Bistro
Drew Middleton, exec chef of Gaia Bistro
Lori Midson

Chef and Tell part two: Drew Middleton from Gaia Bistro

Drew Middleton Gaia Bistro 1551 South Pearl Street 303-777-5699 www.gaiabistro.com

This is part two of Lori Midson's Chef and Tell interview with Drew Middleton. To read part one of that interview, click here.

Culinary inspirations: Thomas Keller. Whenever I think of him, the first thing that comes to mind is perfection. From his farms to the table, he shows such care and respect for his food that it makes me want to strive for the same. And then there's Mario Batali, who's like an encyclopedia when it comes to Italian food. It just blows me away that a single person can know so much about one cuisine.

Proudest moment as a chef: Back in 2006, 5280 magazine included us in its top ten best new restaurants list, which shocked me. We'd only been open for six months, and to be honest, I had absolutely no idea how we were doing, but that award made me believe that we'd gotten off to a really good start. That said, I'm proudest when I know that people are enjoying my food. It doesn't matter if it's in the restaurant or at home with friends and family. Making people happy with food never gets old.

Favorite music to cook by: Lately my cooks and I have been into hip-hop like Del tha Funkee Homosapien and A Tribe Called Quest. But I love everything, so we change it up all the time.

Best food city in America: Austin, Texas, home of the best barbecue and taquerías. The culinary scene there has its own kind of funky vibe, with all different kinds of restaurants and cuisines with their own Austin style -- and I love that it's not pretentious. There's this crepe place that you've got to check out: It's run out of an old Winnebago, and the guys who work there give you the crepe -- they're so good -- on a paper plate, and you plop yourself down at a picnic table and eat in the middle of a park.

Favorite restaurant in America: Cappy's restaurant in San Antonio, my home town. They serve Southern Texas-style comfort food, and I've been eating there for the past twenty years. Everything is made in-house, they use only Texas produce and livestock, the food and atmosphere are so comforting, and the pot roast is the best I've ever had.

What you'd like to see more of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: Butcher shops and bakeries. There are a few good butcher shops in Denver, like Marczyk Fine Foods and Oliver's, but I live in the DTC area, and there's absolutely nothing by me. As for bakeries, I love bread, and so far, I haven't found anywhere to buy really great bread.

What you'd like to see less of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: Chefs that source products from everywhere but Colorado, when the same products, which are often much better, are available right in their own back yard. There are so many great products in Colorado that I can't figure out why more chefs don't take advantage of everything that's available.

Favorite cookbooks: The French Laundry, because of Thomas Keller's depth; he shows you things like where the lamb comes from and how it's organically raised. It also focuses on how fresh is best and how the use of local products benefits everyone in the community. I also really like The Produce Bible, by Leanne Kitchen. It's a great encyclopedia of produce that tells you all about flavor profiles, pairings and seasonality.

What show would you pitch to the Food Network? I'd pitch a food-and-wine-pairing show, where the host comes up with a menu and pairs a wine with each course, then explains why the wine works with the food.

Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: Pig's ears. They're good, but chewy.

Current Denver culinary genius: Alex Seidel, the chef at Fruition. He has gardens and livestock and a charcuterie program. Doing everything from scratch like that is very impressive to me.

You're making a pizza. What's on it? Prosciutto, arugula, Parmesan and a fried egg.

You're making an omelet. What's in it? Bacon, wild mushrooms and Gruyère.

You're at the market. What do you buy two of? Fra' Mani salami or coppa, and any good Manchego.

Weirdest customer request: Someone once ordered a crepe with roasted pork tenderloin and salmon. That was it -- just those two things, and those two things should never be eaten together.

Favorite Denver restaurant(s) other than your own: Fruition, Table 6 and Il Posto. Il Posto is great, because there's a new menu every night, and while the food is always creative, it still adheres to the style of Milan. Table 6 has the most comforting food -- the kind of food that I always want to make at home but don't because I never have time, and Fruition is just very refined. I always learn something and get inspired every time I go there. I feel the same way about Table 6 and Il Posto.

Hardest lesson you've learned: When I dropped out of college and just tried to float by, I soon realized how hard I'd made it for myself to obtain a degree. But it was a good lesson, because it made me work extremely hard for my culinary degree and to push myself to do the best I can. It taught me the value of hard work and responsibility.

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