Chefs Robin Baron, Mike Peshek, Ian Kleinman and David Bumgardner dish on non-negotiable rituals
Ian Kleinman, founder of the Inventing Room, bombs a pool with liquid nitrogen during the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen.
The signature signs of a city that's on the culinary fast track reside in its willingness to take aggressive risks, push infinite boundaries and continually adapt to a fickle dining public whose expectations are always on the upswing. Denver is that city -- a major metropolis that refuses to slow down, unleashing triumphant restaurants, watering holes and breweries commanded by innovative masterminds, the likes of which have resulted in a James Beard Award-winning chef, nationally crowned cocktail champions and Einsteins of beer.
See also: Welcome to Westword's 19th annual DISH
As a prelude to the September 22 DISH, Westword's annual celebration of the Denver dining scene, we picked the brains of nearly fifty Denver chefs, all of whom weighed in on Denver's current culinary landscape and the trends that have made their mark this past year. But that's not all we wanted to know: We also wondered which ingredient best personified their personalities and what ritual was an integral part of their daily routine.
Herewith the dish from Mike Peshek, David Bumgardner, Ian Kleinman and Robin Baron; watch for more installments over the next several days, and don't miss part one, part two, part three, part four and part five of our DISH chef series, all of which appeared last week.
What don't people know about you that you wish they did? I was born to make people laugh.
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you? I taste every product that's been prepared, checking everything from sauces to remoulades to veggies. I don't assume that I -- or my cooks -- have it right all the time.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be? I'd love to have the ability to predict the future. I'd be rich and my family would always be safe. I'd probably help others too, but no guarantee.
What's the most positive trend in food, wine, cocktails or beer that you've noticed in Denver over the past year? More and more local microbreweries are raising the bar, and I think the culinary community has really come together in the past year, thanks to chefs like Jeff Osaka and Jensen Cummings.
Who's the one person to watch right now in the Denver dining scene? I like Jensen Cummings for the fact that he's really spearheaded charity work as well as his own career. It's noble to give back as much as he has, and he reminds me to get out of my own head and realize that we can do so much help if we pool our resources to help others in need.
Which ingredient is most representative of your personality? My wife says I'm like an artichoke: spiny and sharp on the outside with a huge heart on the inside. I guess that makes sense to me. I love all people when I let them in.
If someone asked you to describe the current state of Denver's culinary climate, what would you say? Our culinary scene has come together and supports each other more than I've ever seen, plus more and more people are takings risks and opening successful new restaurants, which indicates that diners are embracing our restaurants and becoming more adventurous. I think the public has responded well to the different styles and tastes of Denver.
What don't people know about you that you wish they did? The number of things people think I do that I don't far outweighs the number of things I do that I wish they did know.
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you? A shower, followed closely by the thought of something exercise-y that I should have done but didn't.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be? Is there a superpower that would allow you to go back and erase all the stupid mistakes you've made but still put you where you are today?
What's the most positive trend in food, wine, cocktails or beer that you've noticed in Denver over the past year? I've noticed a lot of people branching out -- or breaking away from where they are -- to start something of their own and make a name for themselves. There's nothing new in that concept, but the sheer number of places and people out there right now is incredible.
Who's the one person to watch right now in the Denver dining scene? I'm not dropping any names. Everyone knows "The People To Watch." They, and you, Westword, make sure of that. I'd say remember that great little bite or cocktail you had in the place you just happened to be in last Tuesday? You might not know who made it today, but chances are you will before long.
Which ingredient is most representative of your personality? Probably salt, because I'm sooo salty. Salt is something most people don't give a second thought to when it's in its place. You only notice it when it's absent, or screaming at you.
If someone asked you to describe the current state of Denver's culinary climate, what would you say? There's a lot of talent in this town and new places are popping up all over the city; it's awesome. And, PS: It's a lot more than craft breweries.
What don't people know about you that you wish they did? I have attempted -- and won -- the gallon milk challenge, which is where you have to drink a gallon of milk in one hour. It's pretty much impossible -- you usually end up vomiting uncontrollably and have to go home. But when I was working in restaurants, I'd often earn extra money by challenging my staff to compete. I only lost one bet, but it amounted to a week's pay for an employee.
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you? Coffee, milk and Hershey's syrup in the morning and a Xanax before bed.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be? I wish I could make liquid nitrogen come out of my eyes. This shit is ridiculously heavy and if I could just shoot it out of my eyeballs and into my bowls, I'd be a happy superhero. I guess I could use it for the greater good, too -- like, you know, for putting out fires.
What's the most positive trend in food, wine, cocktails or beer that you've noticed in Denver over the past year? I love how restaurants and hotels are embracing the molecular movement. Chefs and bartenders are finally looking for the best techniques when they cook and make drinks. All in all, Denver seems to be stepping out of the box more, and I love it.
Who's the one person to watch right now in the Denver dining scene? I'm always looking at the great line cooks being developed by the great chefs in this city. There's a tremendous amount of talent just waiting to make their mark
Which ingredient is most representative of your personality? A potato. I'm dull and boring but I will surprise you with my diversity
If someone asked you to describe the current state of Denver's culinary climate, what would you say? It's hopping, but I think we are starting to tip the line of super-saturation. The best will hang on and the rest will fade away.
What don't people know about you that you wish they did? Dancing is my main passion outside of cooking. For me, there are a lot of parallels between dancing and cooking, and to do both well, you need equal measures of soul and technique. Dance is liberating and expressive, but it constantly challenges your technique -- at least the styles that I pursue. Both dancing and cooking are things you continue to work on and explore your whole life.
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you? I have a Rottweiler, so every morning begins with a walk. It's a great way to start the day. The extra perk is that he's my personal full-time bodyguard. You know how crazy Denver is.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be? My food would have power, similar to the book Like Water for Chocolate. Sometimes a flavor is so elusive, and I want to capture it tenfold or be able to communicate the nostalgia and essence of an experience or memory to whomever is eating my food.
What's the most positive trend in food, wine, cocktails or beer that you've noticed in Denver over the past year? The use of whole grains, rye flours and spelt in bread baking. They're grains that are very difficult to turn into delicate and sophisticated bread, but our master baker Maurizio Negrini has been working on perfecting the practice for the past year. We're going to start producing 100-percent German rye breads and true whole-wheat breads, which will still utilize our natural starters but introduce new combinations of flours and grains to create whole new breads. We've even purchased our own artisan stone mill where we're grinding our own local, organic flours and grains for all our breads. We'll start rolling them out toward the end of the year.
Who's the one person to watch right now in the Denver dining scene? I'm very excited about Acorn at the Source. Steven Redzikowski is super-talented and I think his influence could shake up the Denver dining scene, in a good way. The River North district is becoming cooler every year, thanks to the addition of great places like the Populist, Crema and Cold Crush (thank you, Musa, for finally opening a place of your own).
Which ingredient is most representative of your personality? A pomegranate. It's sweet and savory, and its flavor and texture are both surprising and exciting, which you really don't expect. It also brings my Israeli heritage into play, which is a big accent in my cooking. Then again, maybe the eggplant is more like my personality. If you treat it right and coax the flavor out, the eggplant truly rewards you, but if you prepare it wrong, you'll miss all the magic.
If someone asked you to describe the current state of Denver's culinary climate, what would you say? Honestly, this year has been crazy busy for me, what with opening two cafes and two restaurants, so I haven't been out enough to really see what's going on around town.
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