Chef and Tell, part two: Zengo's Clint Wangsnes
This is part two of Lori Midson's interview with Clint Wangsnes, chef of Zengo. Read part one of that Q&A.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: I have high expectations of all of my staff. I expect them to give me their all during every shift, to treat the kitchen as if it was their own, to take pride in their work, stay organized and focused, taste everything they're making and, most important, if it's not right, fix it. And I absolutely won't allow sauté pans or pots on the cutting boards. It disrespects the cutting board. I also won't allow anyone to call in sick. You have to come in, and if you're green, then I'll send you home -- unless you have a doctor's note.
Favorite restaurant in America: The Painted Lady, in Newberg, Oregon. It's a small, little restaurant in a quiet little town run by two amazing chefs, Allen and Jessica Routt. It's right in the middle of an up-and-coming wine region, in an old Victorian house. Because of the small size of their restaurant, they really focus on true farm-to-plate cooking, and I really respect that.
Best food city in America: Miami. I spent about eight years of my life in and out of South Beach, and the diversity of food there is just amazing. Miami is one of those towns that's just oozing with culture and energy, and it's become a melting pot for a lot of amazing chefs and new and interesting concepts.
Favorite music to cook by: Back in the day, I used to love listening to DJ Danny Tenaglia and a little Biggie Smalls to get me pumped for service, but now I prefer silence.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? I received an electric pressure cooker as one of my wedding gifts, and while I've only played with it a few times, it's pretty amazing. You can do tough cut of meat in thirty to forty minutes.
Favorite dish to cook at home: Anything on my rotisserie. Last summer, I was really into barbecued ribs.
Current Denver culinary genius: Hands down, Frank Bonanno. I have the utmost respect for him and his restaurants. I think it's great how he takes other concepts from around the country and brings them to Denver, and then applies his own twists. He's really building an empire here, and all of his places are high-quality.
You're making a pizza. What's on it? Salami, hot peppers, oyster mushrooms, fresh mozzarella and arugula.
Guiltiest food pleasure? Chocolate, especially chocolate chip cookies.
You're at the market. What do you buy two of? Simply Limeade. It's so delicious mixed in a cold glass of water, especially after a night in a hot kitchen.
Weirdest customer request: A lady came into Zengo and handed me a list of ingredients that she could eat, but instead of asking me to make her a dish, she wanted me to send out a plate full of deconstructed random food that she could put together herself at the table. Why even bother going out?
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: When I was in Hawaii, one of my cooks, who was Filipino, brought me balut -- a fertilized duck egg. It was one of the most disgusting textures I've ever experienced, and to this day, the thought of chewing on poultry cartilage makes me ill.
Favorite Denver restaurant(s) other than your own: They make great pizza at Osteria Marco, and the burrata is delicious. The last place where I had a really awesome experience was Olivéa. The food was excellent, as was the service. I also enjoy the sandwiches from Masterpiece Delicatessen and pizza from Benny Blanco's.
Favorite celebrity chef: Mario Batali. He's very knowledgeable about food and likes to explain everything while he's cooking. I enjoy watching his reruns.
Celebrity chef who should shut up: That's kind of drastic, but my least favorite is Paula Deen. Her personality is overbearing, and her whole cooking style is just too over-the-top. I can't stand her show. Her baking recipes are great, though.
Are chefs artists, craftsmen or both? There are chefs out there who can't for the life of them manage a restaurant, but they're unbelievably creative, and there are chefs who aren't remotely creative but can manage a restaurant. And then there are those chefs that have the creativity and the ability to execute amazing dishes and run a busy restaurant -- and those are the chefs who I really look up to.
What's your favorite knife? I use a Misono UX10. It's the best knife I've found by far. It has a really good weight to it, and it's really comfortable in my hand.
What's next for you? My wife, Marci, and I are expecting a baby in the spring, so I imagine my life is going to get pretty crazy in the months and years to come. As far as cooking goes, I would love to open up my own little place here in Denver. I want a casual setting and a restaurant that's not intimidating, but with food that's a cut above the rest -- a restaurant like Olivéa. I'm always on the hunt for investors and spaces, but isn't every chef?
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