Chef and Tell, part two: Geoffrey Groditski on incompetent culinary school grads, pounds of butter and the whole hog
This is part one of my interview with Geoffrey Groditski, executive chef of The Fort. In part one of that interview, Groditski raps on his $40,000 mistake, raw bull's balls and how pine nuts make him puke.
Favorite restaurant in America: Do I really have to answer this? Yeah? Okay, it's the Fort. We had the Denver Summit of the Eight here; we're listed on the National Register of Historic Places; Julia Child loved us; and we're a Colorado institution that's been here almost fifty years and we're still going strong. I love it here, as does the staff, many of whom have been here for more than twenty years. The Fort is unique, and there is no place in America like it.
Best food city in America: It's got to be Chicago. There are so many great restaurants there, and the ethnic diversity in that city allows for great mom-and-pop restaurants, too.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: Competent culinary graduates who know how to work and cook. I get tons of resumés from would-be chefs who went to one of the many culinary schools in the Denver/Boulder area, and the only ones who really know how to work and cook are the ones who got their education from the ACF apprentice program at Red Rocks Community College. It makes me sad for the people who spent way too much money on getting an associate's degree.
What you'd like to see less of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: Crappy Mexican restaurants. They're everywhere, and they all have the same menu. It makes me sad when I get a burrito and know the green chile has been thickened with flour to make it stretch, and everything is oversalted. Places that do this give Mexican food the reputation of being dog food when it's not.
Current Denver culinary genius: There are so many great chefs in Denver that it's really hard to name just one as the culinary genius. That said, I have always loved Michael Long's food and hope that his new venture, Aria, has the same success that Opus has had.
Favorite Denver/Boulder restaurant(s) other than your own: I like to go out for pho -- love noodles and tendon -- at the smallest little hole-in-the-walls I can find. There's a great little pho place in Aurora, on Peoria and Mississippi, that I love. My kids love it, too. But, honestly, with three kids, it's tough to go out, because on my days off, I want to spend time with my family at home. I did have dinner at Bittersweet recently, and it was damn good. My wife and I will go to Hooters occasionally, too -- we've been doing it for years -- and eat wings and drink. We have she's hot/she's not debates.
Best culinary tip for a home cook: Buy a good knife, learn how to use it, and keep it sharp. Dinner won't take nearly as long to prepare if you know how to use a knife.
Guiltiest food pleasure? Twizzlers and Mountain Dew. Processed, dyed and sugary -- yes. But, hey, at least it's not fast food.
You're making a pizza. What's on it? Mushrooms, spinach, artichoke hearts, anchovies, tomatoes, Provolone and mozzarella cheeses.
You're at the market. What do you buy two of? Pounds of butter. Have I mentioned that I love butter? I only cook at home one or two days a week, but I always seem to need more butter. Go figure.
Favorite music to cook by: Frank Zappa, Slayer, Steve Vai, funk and disco. That said, I hate the damn radio. They play the same twenty songs on every station, and it makes my head and heart hurt.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? For Christmas last year, my mom gave me Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, volumes one and two. Volume two is the first printing.
What's your favorite knife? An eight-inch Wüsthof Trident French knife. It holds its edge, and a French knife is extremely versatile. I love it.
One book that every chef should read: Le Guide Culinaire, by Escoffier. It's the ultimate reference for chefs. The basic techniques we use in kitchens every day are all in here, and it's imperative that every chef knows how to apply them.
What show would you pitch to the Food Network, and what would it be about? I'd call it Death of a Dream and put culinary-school graduates in a crazy-busy restaurant and see how many of them can actually handle the pressure. The winner would get a job as a line cook and have to work his way up -- just like most of us have had to do.
If you could cook for one famous chef, dead or alive, who would it be? Julia Child. I think she was awesome, and she had a great sense of humor and really knew food. She was an icon, and it would have been an honor to cook for her.
Favorite celebrity chef:. Anthony Bourdain. He's not full of BS and he's not politically correct. In fact, he's the most real "celebrity" chef there is.
Celebrity chef who should shut up: Daisy Martinez. She's a hack and her food sucks. I've tried to watch her show a couple of times, only to witness her completely ruin food. What kind of person marinates fish in citrus for an entire day just so she can grill it? It's already cooked! What a joke. Yes, I wish she would shut up.
Are chefs artists, craftsmen or both? Craftsmen. There are the rare exceptions -- people like Ferrán Adrià (who's more like a mad scientist), or Thomas Keller who turn food into art, but the chefs who don't have that kind of money behind them are definitely craftsmen. We work and babysit and make great food, but most of us don't have an army of unpaid interns beating down our doors or a kitchen with fifty cooks, each doing a specific job. We work within our budgets and the space that we're given. To do what most chefs do is a craft. The food needed to be ready fifteen minutes ago and my dishwasher didn't show up, or I'm two cooks down tonight for God knows what reason. These are the realities that most chefs deal with; most of us don't have time to be artists.
What's next for you? Millions of dollars, I hope. Honestly, I'm not really sure. There are many avenues that I'd like to explore, but I'm focused on the Fort right now. We have so much going on, and every time I turn around, there's something new to do. I've been blessed with so many opportunities here -- TV appearances, cooking at the James Beard House and helping Holly with her cookbook. I don't know what else could top all of that. I will say that I've had a blast doing television and would always be open to doing something in that part of the industry. And I'd also love to have my own place. That's every chef's dream, I think. I don't know...I guess I believe that whatever's next for me will be another great adventure, and it'll come when the time is right.
Last meal before you die: A roast suckling pig and all of the Colorado microbrews I can drink. I could absolutely die happy after that -- just as long as I was given enough time to eat the entire pig, because the whole point of a suckling pig is to eat it all. The ears and snout, the trotters and pork belly, cheeks, hams, shanks, tenderloin and ribs are just the beginning. Every bone must be picked clean and the fat on the plate sopped up with crusty bread and all washed down with a cold beer or ten. Yes, let gluttony rule the day, if it must be my last.
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