Chef and Tell, part two: Robert Bogart on fluffernutters, nutty protein drinks and cooking for Julia Child
This is part two of Lori Midson's interview with Robert Bogart, executive chef of Elway's Downtown. In part one of that interview, which ran yesterday, Bogart raps on strange guest requests, one roof and how he wishes that cooks would get the respect they deserve.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: My main philosophy in the kitchen is that if everyone works together as a team and has the same goals and motivation, then that will be reflected in the food. Passion drives my crew -- they work very hard -- and the kitchen is open 24 hours, so they have to have passion. You have to respect your team and they'll respect you back. I'm lucky to have such a talented group, and when faced with uncertainty, they kill it. I'm also a stickler about everything being put in its proper place, and making sure that no one grabs the tickets from the printer other than me. If you do that, I'll get pissed. Leave the tickets alone.
Biggest kitchen disaster: I was opening a smokehouse restaurant a few years ago a little northwest of Denver -- I was the chef, and openings are always brutal. I'd just spent a month cleaning up and renovating an old Macaroni Grill, and I was also setting up the kitchen and dining room, designing the menu, hiring employees and ordering food. We had planned a soft opening just for friends and family to see how the service would present itself on our first night -- and I'd invited my wife and her friend to come. As it turned out, the manager had also invited 300 people in the area for a free meal to the opening -- and since it was free, they all showed up. It was an absolute disaster. I remember fire, smoke and food literally flying everywhere; it was nothing short of a war zone. I can't even believe we got through it alive. To add insult to injury, they were rude to my wife, who didn't even get seated, much less get to try the food. Some friends and family night; I quit the next day.
What's never in your kitchen? Instant anything.
What's always in your kitchen? The ability to do anything the guest wants at any time of the day or night. We also always have fresh and dried chiles in the kitchen, off-menu meats that we do a lot of fun stuff with, and lots of oyster varieties. And there are always really bad jokes and puns in the kitchen. We'll see an olive pit, and someone will suddenly quip, "It's the pits," or if we're making a beet salad, someone will inevitably find a way to use "beets me" in a sentence. Yeah, I know, corny.
Favorite music to cook by: The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. I love to cook to anything I know the words to. Of course, this is only at home.
One food you detest: I truly don't dislike a lot of foods, with the exception of black licorice. I've thought that ever since I was a kid growing up in Lake Rosseau in Ontario. We'd take the outboard to the general store and I'd always buy licorice, but I'd get the red -- cherry -- until one day, I went for the black. For some reason, it totally threw me off.
One food you can't live without: Pasta. I love spaghetti alla carbonara; red sauce; white sauce; no sauce; pasta with just butter and Parmesan; pesto sauce; meatballs; and macaroni and cheese. All that said, I can absolutely live without over-cooked pasta -- there's nothing worse.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? A copy of the Deluxe Food Lover's Companion signed by everyone in the Elway's kitchen. Also, my mom bought me an Eiffel Tower cheese grater that she got in Paris -- but it's too beautiful to use.
Favorite dish to cook at home: Fresh pasta with tomatoes from my garden, Italian sausage, garlic, butter, Parmesan, basil and a bottle of wine.
Favorite dish on your menu: I'm always a sucker for a great burger -- and we have the best.
If you could put any dish on your menu, even though it might not sell, what would it be? It would sell -- and it would be pizza cooked in a wood-burning oven. It might be a bit much for a steakhouse, but we also serve all Ritz-Carlton guests' in-room dining orders out of the Elway's kitchen. Fresh, wood-burning-oven pizzas would be an amazing treat for the guest in their room -- or even at the bar. Unfortunately, it's not something we could add to our kitchen -- at least not now. But we do make an amazing flatbread pizza that changes weekly, which is also offered during our daily happy hour.
One book that every chef should read: Medium Raw. No matter what you think of Anthony Bourdain, his perspective on the culinary world, ever since writing Kitchen Confidential, is eye-opening. In Medium Raw, it's his experiences outside of working as a chef that are so fascinating. It's also a quick read, and it takes a chef out of the kitchen and into the real world, plus he shares his insight as to what's popular and upcoming in the world of gastronomy.
What show would you pitch to the Food Network, and what would it be about? I'd do a series -- a reality show -- about almost any large-scale back-of-the-house operation. It would focus on the dishes and how they're created, but also the personalities of the kitchen and then, of course, service. Not like a Gordon Ramsay show, but like an actual busy kitchen. I wouldn't volunteer ours, though.
You're making a pizza. What's on it? Bacon, heirloom tomatoes, fresh, sliced jalapeños with mascarpone and cream cheese, and a garnish of scallions and shaved Parmesan.
Guiltiest food pleasure? Anything fried -- and I mean anything. French fries are awesome, and I also love battered fresh fish. Deep-fried peanut butter sandwiches are a lot of fun, too, and fluffernutters are the ultimate savory and sweet fat when they're deep-fried.
You're at the market. What do you buy two of? Organic eggs. I use them for everything, but I love them just plain. My daughter's favorite meal is eggs and toast; it's one of mine, as well.
Weirdest customer request: We get requests for anything and everything. A really big-name celebrity -- she's a singer -- asked us to blend a strange morning drink with kale, grains, carrot juice and protein powder. Guests often request things off the menu but use whatever ingredients are on the menu to come up with their own dishes. Someone ordering waffles at 7 p.m. is not unusual. Ultimately, I just always try to make sure we can accommodate our guests no matter what -- even when they want eggs Benedict topped with egg whites and extra hollandaise, which of course is made with yolks.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: That's a tough one. I once ate a fermented egg, which was kinda fun. I was told it was 100 years old, only to later find out that it was only a couple months old.
Best culinary tip for a home cook: Have fun, clean up as you go and use a sharp knife. But the number-one tip, really, is having fun. I cook at home to relax, even after an eighteen-hour crazy day. You can have a beer and cook what you want.
If you could cook for one famous chef, dead or alive, who would it be? Julia Child would be an amazing guest. I met her once, just as I was beginning in the industry, and she told me to "keep cooking" in her famous voice, while holding a small cup of tea. I'd show her that, ten years later, I still am. I'd love to repay her with a great meal.
Last meal before you die: It's got to be a hamburger with onions and ketchup, crispy, skinny fries and a chocolate milkshake. But not just any burger, fries and shake: I want it from Weber's Burgers, just north of Toronto. It would be delicious, bring me back to my childhood and give me the opportunity to reflect on my really great life.
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