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Frank Bonanno compares himself to brandy: "I still have a bite, but I'm mellowing as I age"

Frank Bonanno: "I never yell."
Frank Bonanno: "I never yell."

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 last batch of dish from Frank Bonanno, Virgilio Urbano, Drew Hardin, Mitch Mayers, Joe Troupe, Pepe Aparicio, Carrie Shores and Crickett Burns. And don't miss part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, part six, part seven, part eight and part nine of our DISH chef series.

Frank Bonanno compares himself to brandy: "I still have a bite, but I'm mellowing as I age"
Lori Midson

Frank Bonanno

Bonanno Concepts

See also: Frank Bonanno's 47 points of good service

What don't people know about you that you wish they did? I never yell.

What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you? I read all nine manager logs over breakfast, then I work out to clear my mind of the noise that interferes with business solutions.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be? I'd like to fly so I'd never have to drive again.

What's the most positive trend in food, wine, cocktails or beer that you've noticed in Denver over the past year? About three years ago, restaurants just began to really look at their drink menus with the intent of bringing their beverage quality up to their food quality; fresh-squeezed juices, house sodas, detailed alcoholic and non-alcoholic menus popped up here, there and everywhere. In the past year, that shift has become more profound, and I love that there's a "bigger picture" across the board -- that if I dine out, in all likelihood both front- and back-of-the-house will have an understanding of beer, spirits, wine, drinks, as well their impact on food flavors. That kind of knowledge just didn't exist a few years back.

Who's the one person to watch right now in the Denver dining scene?

Steve Cochenouer isn't really "in the Denver dining scene" -- he's a farmer at the peripheral -- but I think it's the people on the peripheral who are worth watching. They're the ones affecting change. Steve's a good, smart grower and a good cook whose knowledge goes beyond cultivation; he gets what chefs are looking for, and he cares about his clients, about his product, and about the diners who will eventually consume it.

Which ingredient is most representative of your personality? I'm brandy; I still have a bite, but I'm mellowing as I age.

If someone asked you to describe the current state of Denver's culinary climate, what would you tell them? It's the best it's ever been, and the growth and new talent is just explosive. Although we don't get much national press as a city, I think Denver dining is on par with the top dining destinations in the country.

Frank Bonanno compares himself to brandy: "I still have a bite, but I'm mellowing as I age"
Lori Midson

Virgilio Urbano

Virgilio's

See also: Virgilio's Pizzeria and Wine Bar slices up new vegetarian (raw optional) entrees

What don't people know about you that you wish they did? How important my family is to me. This business makes it difficult to maintain what many would consider a traditional family life. Meals together? I'm at the restaurant. Holidays? I'm at the restaurant. I work hard to bring my son and daughters in whenever they're home from college, and I make it a point to steal a few days away from here to go visit them at college. And my brother and his family fly in from Connecticut every month or so to help out around the restaurant and keep it a real family thing.

What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you? I'm a huge juicer. I love everything about it, from the taste to how it makes my body feel and perform. I even invested in a Norwalk juicer, which is just amazing, and every morning, the first thing I do is turn it on.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be? A miracle green thumb. I'd like to be able to grow anything, anywhere. I'd have nothing but fresh, organic produce right here behind my restaurant. Oh, and I'd need to be able to snap my finger and have the land to grow it on, too.

What's the most positive trend in food, wine, cocktails or beer that you've noticed in Denver over the past year? While we're proud of our Western heritage and many restaurants still pay homage to that heritage in great and unique ways -- think bison, elk, beef and trout -- Denver is a really sophisticated culinary market that goes far beyond those local staples. Great and unique wines can be found at so many more places now, and our breweries really do compete on an international stage.

Who's the one person to watch right now in the Denver dining scene? I love what Olav Peterson and Will Johnson are doing at Bittersweet. Their gorgeous garden, the fresh, seasonal items on the menu and the homemade breads have been so inspiring and have this amazing European flair.

Which ingredient is most representative of your personality? I'm too complex for one ingredient, although I guess I'm most like our amazing pizza crust: a little crunchy and textured at the crust end, but underneath all the toppings, exists a soft, silky, delicious, perfectly balanced crust holding it all together.

If someone asked you to describe the current state of Denver's culinary climate, what would you say? Evolving. From the food we're serving, to an increased emphasis on customer service, to how we market to our clientele, everything seems to be kicked up a notch in Denver compared to other places I've recently traveled to.

Frank Bonanno compares himself to brandy: "I still have a bite, but I'm mellowing as I age"
Lori Midson

Drew Hardin

Lola

See also: Drew Hardin, exec chef of Lola, on cooks who don't have passion

What don't people know about you that you wish they did? I hate peanut butter, but I love peanuts, especially boiled peanuts. But peanut butter is gross, even in cookies, so don't give any to me. In addition, I am the best at 007 on Nintendo 64. I accept any challenger.

What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you? Telling my amazing wife that I love her.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be? It sounds cliché, but I'd like to be able to read minds; it could really help you get ahead in the business world. Either that, or the ability to summon some badass dragons. How cool would it be to say, "Oh, I just flew in to work on my dragon?" Some people just want the ability to fly, but flying on a dragon is way better.

What's the most positive trend in food, wine, cocktails or beer that you've noticed in Denver over the past year? Supporting each other. There are a lot of cooks that've become chefs in big restaurants, and it's really cool to see every one support one another in order to make the food scene in Denver grow. I don't know this for a fact, but I doubt other cities have that kind of comradery.

Who's the one person to watch right now in the Denver dining scene? Those dudes at Beast + Bottle: Paul Reilly, Wade Kirwan and James Rugile. It seems like a great crew - just a few guys going to work to cook and have a great time, and every one of them is talented in their own way. I've worked with all of these guys at one point, and to throw them all together in one restaurant is something out of a dream. I can just see them working their asses off while singing "Caribbean Queen," or some other cheesy song, all while producing amazing food.

Which ingredient is most representative of your personality? Blueberries, because I'm so sweet, but I can also be a bit tart if I want to be.

If someone asked you to describe the current state of Denver's culinary climate, what would you say? Denver is getting huge with so many great restaurants opening up every week, and there's a lot of support for each other. Lola opened in Highland a long time ago, and we've since welcomed a bunch of new restaurants into the neighborhood. There's nothing but love there.

Frank Bonanno compares himself to brandy: "I still have a bite, but I'm mellowing as I age"
Lori Midson

Mitch Mayers

Black Pearl

See also: Black Pearl owner Steve Whited and his chef, Mitch Mayers, opening Agio in Baker

What don't people know about you that you wish they did? Part of working in the back of the house is that you don't have to constantly interact with people. I'm more of an introvert at times and am happiest when there's no talking in the kitchen during prep -- just some music playing in the background.

What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you? I love to take a fifteen-minute shower. It's a bit indulgent, but I get all my best thinking done in the shower -- everything from menu ideas to scheduling, or just thoughts on how I'm going to attack the day.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be? The ability to reach into my pocket and pull out whatever I want at that very moment. That, to me, is the best superpower because it's never ending, and whatever I needed would always be right there.

What's the most positive trend in food, wine, cocktails or beer that you've noticed in Denver over the past year? The snout-to-tail movement. Chefs are pushing themselves to use the more difficult cuts of meat that often get overlooked or forgotten, but in many cases have better flavor.

Who's the one person to watch right now in the Denver dining scene? There are so many great chefs doing amazing things, but I still feel like Alex Seidel is a chef that people really have to watch. Despite the fact that there are tons of new restaurants opening, Fruition and Fruition Farms still kick ass. Plus, there's that other restaurant in Union Station that he's working on.

Which ingredient is most representative of your personality? An onion. We both have multiple layers

If someone asked you to describe the current state of Denver's culinary climate, what would you say? It's booming -- not just in the quantity of new restaurants but in the quality of the products. By broadening the scope of their menus, chefs are definitely taking the initiative to educate diners about new ingredients, cuisines and cooking techniques.

Frank Bonanno compares himself to brandy: "I still have a bite, but I'm mellowing as I age"
Lori Midson

Joe Troupe

Lucky Pie

See also: Good execution turns into good pizza at Lucky Pie

What don't people know about you that you wish they did? I'm an avid crotchetier.

What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you? I can't have a day go by that I don't check out where Lori Midson's been eating. The other ritual would be -- and this is second to reading "Guess where I'm eating?" -- pulling my smiling daughter out of bed and getting that first hug in the morning after she leaps at me from the top of her dresser.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be? I'd like the ability to teleport. There are so much cool things in the world to do and see...and so little time. It would be really nice to think to myself, "It's truffle season in Italy right now" -- then boom, I'm standing in the middle of Piedmont and still have time to make it back before preshift.

What's the most positive trend in food, wine, cocktails or beer that you've noticed in Denver over the past year? I'm really excited to see more brewers and breweries pushing the boundaries, and given the number of breweries that are popping up every day, you know the competition is going to get fierce. All of the people who think they have a great homebrew recipe for a porter or a pilsner -- the ones who believe they can start a brewery based on that alone and then kill it out of the gates -- aren't really cutting it for me right now, but I really love what Avery is doing with its barrel-aged series, all the cool stuff Crooked Stave does every day, and the way BRU in Boulder is incorporating culinary ingredients into their brews to add some unexpected depths of flavor.

Who's the one person to watch right now in the Denver dining scene? I'm really excited to see Kelly Whitaker come to Denver. I think, in general, that Denver believes that great food can only come from a certain type of experience (i.e. million-dollar kitchens and lavish dining rooms or whatever's the polar opposite of a divey taqueria). I hope what he's working on can skew that point of view in the other direction. Larger cities have cool counter spots, and I'm excited to see what he brings us in Denver.

Which ingredient is most representative of your personality? Kale. It's bitter and chewy and kind of an acquired taste.

If someone asked you to describe the current state of Denver's culinary climate, what would you tell them? Denver's dining scene is constantly growing and evolving, but we still have some growing up to do. I feel like dining scenes are typically based upon higher-end restaurants, and while Denver is doing a really nice job in that department, I'd love to see more emphasis on really great restaurants I can go to every day, both from a price point and environment perspective. On that note, I'm psyched for the addition of the Source to Denver. The Ferry Building in San Francisco, especially when there's a farmers' market, is one of the coolest places I've been. I really hope the Source captures the same feel and vibe.

Frank Bonanno compares himself to brandy: "I still have a bite, but I'm mellowing as I age"
Lori Midson

Pepe Aparicio

Taita Peruvian Cuisine & Bar

See also: Pikkas, a new Peruvian restaurant, opening in the former Abrusci's space in Cherry Creek

What don't people know about you that you wish they did? I'm very shy and usually don't like to be interrupted when I'm in the kitchen. When I'm cooking, I forget about everything else; it feels like I'm in a different world.

What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you? It starts with my morning shower followed by a cup of coffee, and when I walk through the doors of my restaurant, my stress is gone and the only thing that's on my mind is how to improve and make my menu better. I'll also have a meeting with my kitchen and front-of-the-house staff to go over every detail on the menu and taste the food.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be? The ability to be invisible would be pretty awesome, and superhuman strength would be a useful superpower, too, but ultimately, I'd really like to have the power to be in many places at once. Not only would it help me at the restaurant, but I also love to travel and the opportunity to move around the world on a whim would be nice.

Who's the one person to watch right now in the Denver dining scene? I don't know how to answer this question without taking Denver out of the picture. If you're into food and want to learn from the best, you need to follow what Gaston Acurio, the most renowned Peruvian chef in the world, is doing: Peruvian cuisine with a twist. And I guess people should be watching me, too, because I'm preparing to open a second restaurant in Cherry Creek called Pikkas. It's coming later this fall.

What's the most positive trend in food, wine, cocktails or beer that you've noticed in Denver over the past year? Creativity and globalized cuisine. People aren't afraid to try new things, and we don't need to go to Peru, for example, to get great ceviche. Just stop by Taita and, soon, Pikkas, to see what I'm talking about.

Which ingredient is most representative of your personality? If you want to know which ingredients are most indicative of my personality, then you just need to take a peek at my menu, which focuses largely on seafood plates like ceviche and tiraditos, the Peruvian version of sashimi. I lived in Japan for twenty years and I'm an expert at preparing fish, keeping it fresh and retaining the incredible flavor.

If someone asked you to describe the current state of Denver's culinary climate, what would you say? Just take a walk around Denver and you'll encounter a variety of regional and international cuisines that are unparalleled anywhere else in the state; everything is represented here. On top of that, the rapid growth of young people eager to try new things has helped to catapult the creativity of chefs and restaurants owners. I'd describe our culinary climate as an infusion of flavors, cultures and traditions that's changing the way we eat, especially compared to ten years ago. Even our vegetarian and vegan cuisines are becoming more popular and sophisticated.

Frank Bonanno compares himself to brandy: "I still have a bite, but I'm mellowing as I age"
Lori Midson

Carrie Shores

Table 6

See also: Carrie Shores, chef of Table 6: "What doesn't kill us makes us stronger"

What don't people know about you that they wish they did? I'll always be your advocate. I believe in people. I believe people have a voice and should be able to be heard. I'm a fighter, too, and will fight for the rights of anybody who deserves a chance. Especially the little guy.

What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you? I strive every day to be the change that people want to see. I couldn't imagine a day where I couldn't work on being a better person to myself and to others.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be? I'd want to have the power to be in more than one place at a time. If I could do what I love, be an awesome mom and have some time for myself and a special someone, that would be a pretty awesome superpower.

What's the most positive trend in food, wine, cocktails or beer that you've noticed in Denver over the past year? It's all about fermentation, a food trend that goes back to our roots. No refrigeration needed, and the health benefits are pretty amazing as well.

Who's the one person to watch right now in the Denver dining scene? The boys from the Squeaky Bean. I'm sure they have something pretty cool up their sleeve, and I can't wait to see what it is.

Which ingredient is most representative of your personality? It's hard to pinpoint just one ingredient. I'd have to say that I like to use ingredients that enable me to keep them true to their most natural state.

If someone asked you to describe the current state of Denver's culinary climate, what would you say? I'd tell them that Denver isn't far behind in the culinary world, but while we try to compete with the big guys, we also strive to keep our independence.

Crickett Burns

The Truffle Table

See also: Truffle Table chef Crickett Burns: "Have a good grasp of the rules...and then break them"

What don't people know about you that you wish they did? I'm almost as passionate about music and dance as I am about cooking.

What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you? Walking my wonderful boxer, Wednesday.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be? If only I could fly. There are so many places to go, see and experience.

What's the most positive trend in food, wine, cocktails or beer that you've noticed in Denver over the past year? A true bonding togetherness of the food-and-beverage community.

Who's the one person to watch right now in the Denver dining scene? Max MacKissock. After leaving the Squeaky Bean, I have no doubt that his next venture will be incredible.

Which ingredient is most representative of your personality? Probably a hot pepper; it adds an interesting and often much-needed spice.

If someone asked you to describe the current state of Denver's culinary climate, what would you say? It's really starting to blow up.


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