Jordan Wallace, chef of Pizzeria Locale, on his Vitamix episode, David Chang and victory
This is part two of my interview with Jordan Wallace, chef of Pizzeria Locale; part one of our chat ran yesterday.
Most memorable meal you've ever had: A dinner at Quince in San Francisco before the restaurant relocated to its current home. It was my first trip to San Francisco, and I think we had about sixteen courses, ten of which were pasta, and the meal lasted about five hours. It was way too much food, but I forced down every bite because it was all so delicious. I was eating with Sarah, my now-fiancée, and Yoann Lardeux, who was sous-chef of Frasca at the time, and his wife. Michael Tusk -- the chef and owner -- brought out every course himself, and we drank different small pours of wine with almost every one of them. To top it all off, I spent the entire next day in the kitchen making everything I had eaten the night before.
Your three favorite Denver restaurants other than your own: The Kitchen Denver is my favorite restaurant to have a two-to-three-hour midweek lunch while enjoying oysters and great beer; the food is very consistent and simple. My lady works at Acorn, where the food is interesting and always spot-on, plus the staff is always welcoming -- and the Source is just a cool spot to hang out. Hops & Pie has truly delicious food, a great beer selection, and it's close enough to my house that I can ride my bike there.
Most underrated restaurant in Denver: Domo. It's so tasty, and yet you never hear anything about it. The ramen is delicious, and I know other chefs and industry professionals who also love it. I like to sit outside in the Zen garden; it's this oasis right next to I-25, but you would never know it.
Who is Denver's next rising-star chef? Alex Figura of Lower48 Kitchen. He's a young chef, but his food is sophisticated, and he's very professional, which is something I noticed when I worked with him at Frasca. All of the other chefs respected him, too, and knew that they could count on him to do a good job. I've only visited Lower48 once, but I know that Alex will elevate the dining scene in Denver for years to come.
Which living chef do you most admire? Michael Tusk, the chef-owner of Quince and Cotogna in San Francisco. He makes amazing food, he's a really hardworking yet welcoming chef, and he can always be found cooking in his restaurant. I've worked with him several times over the years, and I'm always amazed by how poised he is in intense moments. I've noticed the frustration inside, but he disguises it well and pushes on to ensure great service and food.
What do you enjoy most about your craft? Cooking food for someone and having it be the best food they've ever had. Somehow, the long hours and stressful services are all worth it when someone gets up from their table and walks back to the kitchen to tell the crew how great their meal was.
What are the most challenging aspects of being a chef? Reminding yourself not to flip out when inexperienced cooks make simple yet really big mistakes. That, and pushing yourself to use every pause or moment to breathe as an opportunity to teach the crew something new, even when you're exhausted.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? A Wüsthof knife set and knife bag that my parents gave me before I went to culinary school in Italy. My parents have been the single most supportive force in my culinary career.
Favorite culinary-related item to give as a gift: Great olive oil or balsamic vinegar from Italy, which isn't something that you can typically find at Whole Foods. I usually get these kinds of gifts from direct small importers, such as Casa de Case.
What's your fantasy splurge? I'd love to have an epic home kitchen with tons of room to prep. It would have a gas range -- and wouldn't it be nice to have a wood-burning oven and small walk-in cooler?
Best recipe tip for a home cook: Home recipes take practice. The more you make a recipe, the better it'll be. Remember, too, that recipes are guidelines: Taste your food, and if it's delicious, the recipe worked.
If you could dress any way you want, what would you wear in the kitchen? Whatever I wanted, but always neat and presentable. I want the people cooking my food to look good and sanitary.
If you could have dinner, all expenses paid, at any restaurant in the world, where would you go? Noma [Denmark] or Osteria Francescana [Italy].
What piece of advice would you give to an aspiring chef? Spend the time to really perfect everything that you've learned and keep on learning; never stop. Too often, young cooks want to be head chefs without going through all the training and hard work that makes being an experienced chef so badass. Keep your mind open to new techniques and ingredients that go against tradition.
If you could train under any chef in the world, who would it be? David Chang. He really knows his stuff, and he makes delicious food. I love Asian food but have never really learned how to cook it traditionally.
What skills and attributes do you look for when hiring kitchen staff? I look for kitchen staff that's enthusiastic, outgoing, respectful, honest, humble, empowered, smart, ambitious, happy, curious, presentable, proud, polite and hospitable.
Biggest mistake a chef can make on the line: Not repeating orders. This is a crucial system in any kitchen: The order is placed, and the chefs call it back to whoever placed the order, whether it's an expeditor or a guest. Calling back orders ensures the order was heard correctly and won't be forgotten.
What's been your worst disaster in the kitchen? This has probably happened to a lot of chefs out there when they were pretty new to working in kitchens. I was making soup, which needed to be blended in a Vitamix while it was hot. After blending the first round of many, I turned off the blender from full blast without easing it back down to the slow speed. I then proceeded to refill the blender with ripping-hot soup and hit the "on" switch. What happened next was a volcanic eruption of green liquid -- all over me and the three people standing closest to me -- and I'm pretty sure there are still pictures on someone's phone of me looking like a dog with his tail between his legs.
Craziest night in the kitchen: The opening day of Pizzeria Locale Boulder. We gave free food to everyone who worked on Pearl Street, and while we barely understood how to run a Neapolitan pizzeria, we were so slammed. Some people waited an hour for their pizza, while others just gave up and left. I was expediting and working the oven, and at the time, I was really the only well-trained pizzaiolo on the team. This was not a sustainable situation. The sixteen-hour day went by in what seemed like one minute, and I felt completely deflated. Luckily, Bobby and Lachlan were very understanding and encouraging.
Biggest moment of euphoria in the kitchen: When we first opened the pizzeria in Boulder, we were really concerned that our guests weren't ready for Neapolitan-style pizza. Every day, we heard customers say, "This pizza is too wet; you need to cook it for at least a couple more minutes." I used to ask myself, "Am I doing it wrong?" And then someone born and raised in Naples approached the pizza counter to let me know it was the best pizza he'd eaten outside of Naples. That was a huge relief, and I knew that if we stuck with it, eventually people would get it.
Kitchen rule you always adhere to: Saying "corner" when holding a knife or something hot.
Kitchen rule you're not afraid to break: Jumping on the line to help when I'm on my way out the door -- in shorts and flip-flops -- and we get a pop of business.
It's your night off and you're starving. What's your go-to quick fix? Sriracha hot wings from Colorado Plus Brewpub.
What's your biggest pet peeve? Wiping hands on aprons and not folding towels. I also can't stand it when tape for labeling is torn instead of neatly cut.
Your best traits: I'm conscientious and have a great willingness to learn.
Your worst traits: I'm sensitive but can always learn something from criticism.
Which talent do you most wish you had? I wish I could play the piano and sing well.
If you had the opportunity to open your own restaurant with no budget constraints, what kind of restaurant would you open? I'd want to open a fifty-seat restaurant that everyone -- not just the elite -- could enjoy. It would be a place where guests could eat once a week or more, with a comfy, welcoming and charming design and a concise menu that changes frequently. I'd use simple, fresh, all-natural ingredients and local producers, and I might even have my own farm to feed products to the restaurant. I love seafood, so it would have to be close to the ocean, and there would have to be a great beer, wine and spirits program. Think the warmth of Nonna's in Alto Adige meets 21st-century sophistication. The people who worked there would not be overly cool, but they'd be friendly, knowledgeable and good at their job.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: Getting to live in Naples and learning how to make Neapolitan pizza and opening Pizzeria Locale Boulder and Pizzeria Locale Denver with Bobby and Lachlan.
What's one thing that people would be surprised to know about you? I was in the Warren Miller movie Snow Riders when I was fourteen.
Get the Dining Newsletter
The week's top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips, and a peek at our print review.