Jonesy's chef Brendon Doyle on running his kitchen like a Spartan army, ordaining his tongs and burger craze overkill
400 East 20th Avenue
When Brendon Doyle got his first cooking gig, it had nothing to do with his love for food or the line. "My first kitchen job was at Woody's Wings N Things, and I only took it because all my friends worked there and I thought I'd have fun," admits Doyle, now the executive chef at Jonesy's EatBar, the irreverent gastropub run by Leigh Jones.
No, Woody's wasn't the inspiration for his future career in the culinary world; the golf course was. Doyle's father owned Riverdale Golf Course in Adams County, and after his stint at Woody's, he began working there during the summers, flipping burgers, slinging hot dogs and ultimately installing an outside grill, from where he could feed those bellied golfers who revere food second only to beer. "I loved the aspect of serving food to people, and I started to think that I wanted to explore cooking," says Doyle, who then approached his father with the prospect of culinary school -- an objective that was promptly rejected. "He told me that he'd only consider it if I went and worked in a restaurant, so I did."
That restaurant was Johnny Carino's, where Doyle was hired to do salad prep. "Truth be told, I mostly scrubbed floors," recalls Doyle. Even so, after six months as a grunt, his dad acquiesced, which set the wheels in motion for culinary school at the Art Institute of Colorado. Doyle got a job working banquets at the Westin Westminster, and later, after graduating, at Aix, the former French bistro in Uptown that's now Olivéa. "That was a high-pressure job," says Doyle. "But I was in charge of doing the amuse-bouche every night, which really forced me to think on my feet and create cool food, fast." From there, Doyle went to Campo de Fiori, now Abrusci's, in Cherry Creek, where he was hired as a line cook and, nine months later, was made executive chef.
It was during his tenure at Campo that Doyle met Leigh Jones. "We talked on and off for a few months about my joining the team at Jonesy's, and I had nearly decided to cook in Italy or hang out in Spain when I got an e-mail from Leigh that said if I hadn't booked my ticket, she wanted to talk more seriously about my coming on board there," Doyle recalls. Several conversations later, he had a gig.
"I love working at Jonesy's," says Doyle. "We're comfort food with a passport, so there's no theme, which means I can push my personal limits, create food outside my comfort zone and make dishes based on my current obsessions."
Fetishes, for example, like fennel, shallots, ginger and annatto seeds. Doyle talks about all of those, as well as his annoyance with pork, Bobby Flay and current food trends, in the following interview.
Six words to describe your food: Simple, clean, fun, comfortable, seasonal and approachable.
Ten words to describe you: Intense, high-strung, creative, loyal, off my rocker, dedicated and whimsical.
Culinary inspirations: My mom was a great cook, and I actually integrate a lot of her recipes into my own dishes -- tweaking them and making them restaurant-savvy. I grew up in an environment where my mother cooked most of the time and we always had family meals rather than going out, and I was able to spend a lot of time with her in the kitchen. I love my mom's meatloaf, which sounds cliché, but it's the truth. She's an amazing baker, too. My cravings and moods inspire me, too, and I really do cook based upon my moods -- if I'm cold, or hot, or if I start craving things. Like right now I love ginger, and I used to hate it. I'm also inspired by many of the chefs in Denver who I hang out with, both personally and professionally. I want to keep up with what they're doing, go to their restaurants and see all the cool dishes that they're playing with, and go back to Jonesy's and blow everyone away. And the people who dine out inspire me to keep creating -- to constantly strive to do better food than I did yesterday. I don't want to become stagnant or boring, and it's my customers -- and potential customers -- who motivate me to keep creating.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: Last summer I was asked to participate in my first 50-Top event at Union Station, which was a huge honor, because I'd looked up to all the chefs who put it together and really wanted to work with them. During that same time, I was asked to be part of Taste of the Nation -- another huge honor -- and then I got to spend every Saturday in August at the Cherry Creek farmers' market promoting Harvest Week with Matty Selby. Being involved with all of those things upped my confidence as a chef and made me really feel like I had become part of the Denver culinary family.
Favorite ingredient: Fennel. It's a great ingredient, and a fantastic way to add crunch and freshness to a salad. Sautéed, it brings another layer of flavor to whatever sauce or dish you're making, and it's also great when grilled as a side with fish or steak. Many people make mirepoix with carrots, onions and celery. In my kitchen, it's made with carrots, onions and fennel.
Best recent food find: I just starting using annatto seeds quite a bit. They grind down to make a great rub and marinade, and annatto oil is great with fish dishes.
Most overrated ingredient: Don't hate me, but pork. I know it's good; I have pork on my menu. I just think it's really becoming overused. To go to an event where twelve chefs are serving pork dishes -- really? Putting bacon and pork fat in everything messes with the simplicity of food, and it's a cop-out way to add flavor and complexity to a dish.
Most underrated ingredient: Shallots. I seriously use them with everything: in sauces, in fruit, in jams and with vinaigrettes. They add such a nice, buttery flavor to food.
Favorite local ingredient and where you get it: Lamb from Ewe Bet Ranch in Loveland. The Beemer family, who owns the ranch, treats me like family, and I love them for it -- plus their lamb, which is very small-production, is incredible. I get six whole lambs from them each year, not to mention coffee and a piece of pie when I visit.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: I run my kitchen like a Spartan army: Be quick, be efficient, be precious and, most important, be aware that no one in the world is more important than the person fighting for you at your side. I promote a sense of camaraderie among my cooks. I might be the chef, but when we're cooking, we're all the same people working toward the same goal. Other rules: I can't stand it when people steal my towels or use my tongs. I've ordained my tongs; they're mine. I have a relationship with those tongs. Don't touch them.
What's never in your kitchen? Competition. In other words, we work as a team. I hire people because I want them to be part of my creative team, and I love bringing people in who can add to my knowledge. And I hate pre-made sauces. You'll never find those in my kitchen.
What's always in your kitchen? Insanity drizzled with olive oil.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: We need a really good, independently owned seafood shack that's not refined -- the kind of place of where you go in and there's paper napkins and a super-simple menu with fish that you can grill, steam or fry. By the way, to the people who say that we can't get really great seafood here because we're not on the coast, you're wrong.
What you'd like to see less of in Denver from a culinary standpoint:Trend-hopping. I feel that we, as chefs, get very trend-happy, and we all jump on the trend wagon all at once. Take burgers, for example. I love burgers as much as the next guy, but do we really need 26 fucking burger joints? Here's what I think: Create food with integrity and love, and it doesn't matter what it's called or where or what you're serving it out of.
Favorite celebrity chef: Mario Batali has a lot of Integrity for a national chef.
Celebrity chef who should shut up: I've never been able to stand Bobby Flay. I can't pinpoint an exact reason why, other than that he just really annoys me.
What's next for you? Keep growing as a chef and a person and keep learning and maturing. I also really want to make a total mind-fuck movie that's an ode to my favorite movie makers -- Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and Chris Nolan -- and write a book.
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