Chef and Tell part two: Max Mackissock from Squeaky Bean
This is part two of my interview with Max Mackissock, executive chef of Squeaky Bean. To read part one of this interview, click here.
Proudest moment as a chef: One of the best parts about being a chef is watching people enjoy our hard work -- our food -- every day. That's always cool, but cooking at the James Beard House in 2008 with Alex Seidel, John Browning, Yasmin Lozada-Hissom and Jen Jasinski was incredibly fulfilling for me. Cooking at the Beard House was a goal that I'd wanted to accomplish as a chef for a long time, and to be cooking with such a great group of people was an honor -- really incredible. Having my parents to cheer me on made it that much sweeter.
Best food city in America: I would love to say anything but New York -- but you can't. That city has the best of everything: ethnic food, high-end restaurants and everything in between. I love eating there.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: Rule number one: Love what you do. Rule number two: Treat the ingredient the way it deserves to be treated. Rule number three: Try and work as hard as me. That's it -- and when they're followed, everything else falls into place. Ultimately, if you love what you do, you're going to show up and kill it every day.
Favorite New York restaurant: It's a tie between Le Bernardin in New York City and Di Fara Pizza in Brooklyn. I hate stuffy service and restaurants that make you feel like they're doing you a favor by serving you -- dining should be fun -- and Le Bernardin is a perfect example of excellence without pretense. The place is approachable and amazing. As for Di Fara...fuggedaboudit. It's the best pizza in America, maybe in the world. I love going there just as much as I do Le Bernardin.
One food you detest: I hate canned chicken soup. A lot of restaurants use chicken paste, and I can taste it from a mile away. It doesn't taste anything like real chicken broth.
One food you can't live without: I could eat pizza for every meal. When I first moved to Colorado, I freaked out because I couldn't find any good pie, but then I found Virgilio's, which is now my favorite New York-style pizza. I worked with a guy in New York, who used to say that "pizza is like sex; even when it's bad, it's good." It's my favorite quote.
Most embarrassing moment in the kitchen: During the second week that Squeaky Bean was open, I nearly cut my thumb off honing my knife on a steel that didn't have a guard on it. Two days later, I was going to San Francisco to cook the final meal at Wolfgang Puck's Postrio with my girlfriend, Jen Jasinski. I showed up with this ridiculous two-pound cast on my hand and had to explain to an all-star team of Wolfgang Puck chefs what had happened. They were busting my chops pretty hard, but in the end, I definitely earned some street cred by cooking about 200 perfect risottos with one hand. But these guys? These guys don't cut themselves. I ended up killing it, but I was mortified in the process.
Culinarily speaking, Denver has the best: I love the Chinese food. From JJ Chinese to Star Kitchen to Lao Wang Noodle House, the Chinese food here is just awesome. A bunch of duck, noodles...that's what we eat when people visit me in Denver. The fact that JJ is open until midnight just sweetens the deal.
Culinarily speaking, Denver has the worst: Late-night diners. I wish we had some really kick-ass, laid-back places like the Blue Ribbon kind of deal in New York. In New York, there's a place to eat at all hours of the day. I don't care if I'm in the city, Schenectady or Buffalo, I can always get some good grub and a cup of whiskey almost whenever I want. We have a market for that here.
Favorite cookbooks: Cooking by Hand, by Paul Bertolli. If you want to get insight into the most intelligent chef in America, read that book. From making salumi to grinding your own flour, this guy just gets it.
What show would you pitch to the Food Network? I think they should do a reality show with my parents. They're both very good cooks, but they fight and bicker constantly. It would be a lot like having the Costanzas doing a food show. They love each other very much, but they pick and patter all the time and yell at each other constantly. Their interaction is hysterical and would make for great fodder, especially since they do most of their fighting in the kitchen. My dad does a lot of the cooking, and my mom just eats him alive. If he's doing something wrong, she'll go off on him. Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: I went on this culinary tour in Japan last year where we ate a lot of weird, really funky stuff. But the worst -- and the weirdest -- was definitely the squid guts we had for breakfast. They were slimy and boogery, and raw and gross - and not something you want for breakfast when you've been drinking sake until three in the morning.
Current Denver culinary genius: My special lady, Jen Jasinski, is a walking encyclopedia of food. Whether we're talking about the proper way to break down a tuna or how to make the proper emulsion in a sausage, she always knows exactly what to do. Her knowledge of food is insane. She absorbs as much as possible and knows more about technique than just about anyone I know. I argue with her sometimes, but I usually lose. I also think John Broening is freakishly smart in the kitchen -- and with the pen.
You're making a pizza. What's on it? Sauce, whole milk mozzarella, salt and sopressata. Don't put too many ingredients on pizza; it's just not meant to be.
You're making an omelet. What's in it? Mortadella, Calabrese peppers and provolone.
You're at the market. What do you buy two of? Pickles. They're delicious on everything.
After-work hangout: I love live music, and my favorite music venue is Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom in Five Points -- stiff drinks, good music and good times.
If you could cook for one person, dead or alive, who would it be? Without question, I would cook an insane meal for my deceased grandparents. I think back on them so fondly...they'd be really proud of what I'm doing.
Favorite Denver restaurant other than your own: Okay, so I am slightly partial, but I love Rioja. I don't think there's any other restaurant in town that has the feel that Rioja does. They have the best combination of food, ambience and service in the city. I also like how it feels like it's a party in there every night.
Hardest lesson you've learned: That at the end of the day, this is a business, not just a creative outlet. Chefs need to run a profitable business, not just cook. It's easy to be a good cook, but it's really hard to be a good chef.
To read part one of my interview with Max Mackissock, click here.
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