Chef and Tell with the Lobby's Charley Sinden: corn sprouts, his favorite pizza and that offal thing
This is part two of Lori Midson's interview with Charley Sinden, exec chef of the Lobby. See what Sinden has to say about roach coaches, liver and the Domino's cheese pizza delivery in the first segment of that Q&A.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: Being a regular guest on Channel 7's Sunday-morning cooking segment. I've been doing it for two years, and I really enjoy creating dishes that are easy for a home cook. I try to think about what's seasonal, the weather outside and what's going to be good. It's a pretty cool gig.
Current Denver culinary genius: Daniel Asher from Root Down. He's a great guy and really loves what he does. He'll take his cooks out into the field and show them what's up. He's a perfect example of a guy who doesn't just talk the local talk; he genuinely walks it, and I really respect that. I've done a lot of charity events with him, too, and he's really awesome to work with.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: Lead by example, be clean, be organized and have fun. And don't complain. It's a restaurant, and not everything is going to work out like it should; it's the nature of the beast. Cook for yourself. In other words, if you wouldn't eat it, don't serve it to my guests. Always make sure that your food is seasoned properly. I hate -- hate -- under-seasoned food. Salt and pepper makes the kitchen go 'round. The Lobby is the first place I've ever worked that has salt and pepper shakers. I can't stand people who douse salt on my food without tasting it first. I also hate it when the linen bag is busting out. I can't stand dirty linens -- it's so fucking annoying. All that said, three of my cooks have been with me for years; they know what I expect and how to conduct themselves in the kitchen.
Favorite music to cook by: Aside from food and cooking, music is the other love in my life, which means that many different bands get played in our kitchen. Silence is not an option. We play mostly punk rock, but there are always days when metal is blaring or Ray Charles and Barry White are laying down some smooth tracks. There's such a great music scene here in Denver. Almost every night of the week, there's something going on. One of our guys even plays in a local punk band called Pitch Invasion.
Favorite ingredient: Fresh basil. I love that there are so many varieties and that it's so versatile. Currently in my garden at home, I have lemon, Thai and opal basil. When I pick it fresh in the morning, the aromas are mind-numbing. If they ever make a perfume that smells like fresh-cut basil, I'm in trouble.
Best recent food find: Jumping Good Goat Dairy. It's located in Buena Vista, and they make some really fine cheese. My favorites are the cave-aged cheddar and the crème de la chèvre, which is a little sweet and has pronounced vanilla and nutmeg flavors. I like to serve it warm with fresh berries.
Most overrated ingredient: Filet mignon. Yeah, it's good, but there are other cuts of meat that taste much better. I'm a big fan of the skirt steak and the flank steak; they're so much more flavorful. I simply don't get why filet mignon is still so popular. And when people order it well-done, I can't for the life of me understand why. Order pot roast, for chrissakes, or just eat a hamburger.
Most underrated ingredient: Corn sprouts. I've never seen them here in Colorado, but we used them a lot when I was cooking in Phoenix. They're sweet and tangy at the same time, packed with flavor and make a great addition to any salad -- and they look pretty awesome, too. All you have to do is sprout corn in the dark and let the seed grow till it's about four inches tall, and -- voilà -- you get these great little yellow corn sprouts.
Favorite local ingredient and where you get it: Local craft beer and spirits. Denver has so much to offer, what with all of our great microbreweries and brewers. It's fun to braise meat with beer, and just like it says on the Breckenridge Brewery 64-ounce growlers, beer "goes well with barbecued animals." It's true: Their Agave Wheat really adds a different dimension to short ribs. Great Divide's Belgica is my favorite seasonal beer ever.
Favorite spice: Cumin. I love the aroma, and I love the pungent punch that you get from cooking with it. I really enjoy mahi lightly dusted with rice flour and cumin and tucked into a warm flour tortilla, and it's a must in green chile.
One food you detest: Offal. I know it's important to use every part of the animal -- and I'm a proponent of that -- but I just can't do offal. I was really young -- six or seven -- when my dad first made liver pâté, and then he lied and said it was chocolate pudding. I think that ruined me forever, because I've never touched it again.
One food you can't live without: Jerky. It's got to be my favorite...so many different flavors and types of meat. It's the perfect snack, and a must for any road trip. I just wish they sold it in bigger bags.
You're making a pizza. What's on it? Prosciutto, Brie, sun-dried tomatoes, jalapeños and fresh basil. After it's baked, I like to drizzle a little balsamic reduction on top.
Guiltiest food pleasure: Cookies and milk -- just not oatmeal cookies. The cookies don't even have to be baked.
You're at the market. What do you buy two of? Melons. I love canary and honeydew melons, especially in smoothies.
What's your favorite knife? A slicer that works great for butchering meat and skinning fish. I have a couple of pretty scars from her, as well; we have a love-hate relationship. She's nothing fancy, but I've had her for her years. I've only used it once for what it's actually intended for: carving prime rib at a carving station.
Hardest lesson you've learned: Business is business. After years of working in restaurants, I've learned that it's prudent to not hang out with the staff, mostly because I don't want to be involved in the gossip circle. And it helps a lot with keeping the chain of respect intact.
What's next for you? We're going to get a chalkboard menu at the Lobby, which will have five to six off-menu specials every day. I'm pretty stoked on it, because it means I get to create new dishes, which I love doing. That said, I've realized that elaborate entrees aren't necessary to wow your guests -- that a fresh-ground burger can be just as satisfying as foie gras and truffles. Other than that, we'll just have to see what comes along.
Last meal before you die: Kuala pig -- tender, juicy, slow-roasted Kuala pig. Just the whole party around the preparation of the meal is enough to make me die happy.
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