Jack-n-Grill's Jack Martinez on mariachi bands, why frog legs aren't his thing and common sense

Jack-n-Grill's Jack Martinez on mariachi bands, why frog legs aren't his thing and common sense
Lori Midson

Jack Martinez Jack-n-Grill 2524 Federal Boulevard; 2630 West Belleview Avenue 303-964-9544; 303-474-4242

This is part two of Lori Midson's interview with Jack Martinez, owner/exec chef of Jack-n-Grill. To read part one of that Q&A, click here.

Six words to describe your food: My food is love made edible.

Ten words to describe you: Enthusiastic, positive, fun, tenacious, free-thinking, grateful, inspiring, humble, risk-taker and a family man.

Favorite music to cook by: New Mexican Spanish music. There's a marked difference between Mexican music from south of the border and New Mexican music from north of the border. New Mexican Spanish music is more folky and full of passion. It reminds me of my grandma cooking in the kitchen.

What you'd like to see more of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: I'd love to see a website specifically for restaurant managers and employees that would allow us to discuss our customers, since our customers are able to discuss our businesses on various websites.

What you'd like to see less of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: Fewer Mexican restaurants claiming that they're authentic, especially the ones that put "real" in front of "Mexican food" on their signs. In order to be authentic, you can't serve Americanized Mexican food.

One book that every chef should read: The Rules of Work: The Unspoken Truth About Getting Ahead in Business, by Richard Templar. It's a book of one hundred rules that every chef should read upon coming out of culinary school. They need to understand the business of being a chef, and this book covers that really well. It's also amazing how many aspiring chefs don't have common sense. This is a book that's full of common sense.

What show would you pitch to the Food Network, and what would it be about? I have a particular show in mind that showcases old family recipes and foods that have yet to be introduced or forgotten. I will leave it at that, since I don't want to have my idea pilfered.

Favorite restaurant in America: Without a doubt, El Charritos in Albuquerque. Their New Mexican food is really fresh, abundant, inexpensive and full of true New Mexican flavors. And on Sundays, they have mariachi bands strolling around the dining room -- and I love mariachi bands. And while I know it's a chain, I'm going say it anyway: I really like the Wednesday-night all-you-can-eat lobster deal at Pappadeaux. So there.

Best food city in America: Denver, because we have such a huge diversity of ethnic cuisine.

Best recent food find: The channa chaat with chickpeas, cucumbers and peppers at Little India. It's so full of flavor, and I love all the spices. It's absolutely delicious.


Current Denver culinary genius: Sean Yontz. He's passionate, uses great ingredients, cares a lot about food, and he's just a great chef. Plus, he reminds me of me when I was younger.

Weirdest customer request: We do a seven-pound breakfast burrito challenge at both stores, and some woman wanted to see if she could tackle it, but she said she was allergic to potatoes and wanted seven pounds of eggs instead, which equals five dozen eggs. I had to respectfully decline her request.

Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: Frog legs. They look like little chicken legs, but they taste like crap.

Best culinary tip for a home cook: Cook with love. I could always tell when my mom cooked as a chore versus when she cooked willingly; it made all the difference in the way her food tasted.

If you could cook for one famous chef, dead or alive, who would it be? Bobby Flay, since his specialty is Southwestern food, and I'd love to show him some of my old family recipes. Actually, I'd love to have a throwdown with Bobby Flay. Bring it on!

Favorite Denver restaurant(s) other than your own: Little India, Pho Fusion, Taquería Mi Pueblo (the enchiladas with two eggs on top are incredible), Bang! (love the meatloaf), and I love the pizza at Amici's.

Favorite celebrity chef: Iron Chef Jose Garces. He does Latin-fusion cuisine, using a lot of fresh fruits and tropical spices in his cooking, and his presentations are beautiful. He's funny, too, and a real character when he cooks.

Celebrity chef who should shut up: Gordon Ramsay. Why would anyone want to work for a chef who yells and screams at the top of his lungs? He's so disrespectful.

What's your favorite knife? Any kitchen knife is fine with me.

Hardest lesson you've learned: That customers may not always be right, but they're still the customer, nonetheless. I treat customers much differently than I used to. It used to be that the customers were the ones with the problem, not my kitchen. I've since learned that sometimes it's the kitchen's fault.

What's next for you? In October of this year, we're opening the doors to Jack-n-Grill number three, in Westminster. And then next spring, I'm hoping to open a fourth location in Castle Pines or Castle Rock. And eventually, I want open Jack-n-Grills in my home state of New Mexico. I want to make sure my kids and grandkids are taken care of. I'll know that's the case when I'm sitting on the sandy beaches of Bora Bora with a Mai-Tai and my wife, Anna, and I'm e-mailing my kids asking them to wire me money.

Several of the chefs that Lori Midson interviews, share recipes from their kitchens. Jack Martinez shares his recipe for Frito pie here.

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2524 Federal Blvd.
Denver, CO 80211


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