Chefs have a reputation for being hotheads: slamming pans, cursing and the like. But when I called Joshua Bitz to learn more about the background of Meadowlark Kitchen, which I review this week, he couldn’t have been nicer. One subject of his praise? None other than Max MacKissock, whom he worked under for seven years, as Bitz moved from line cook at Vita to opening sous chef at both Squeaky Beans.
Which begs the question: If chefs were as gruff as they’re made out to be, would Bitz have so many nice things to say about his former boss, repeatedly alluding to lessons that MacKissock had taught him? So I decided to call back and ask another question: Did Bitz consider MacKissock a mentor? Turns out he did, and MacKissock – whose next venture, Bar Dough, is scheduled to open in August in LoHi — agreed; excerpts of our conversations, edited for length and clarity, follow.
Westword: Did you think of Max MacKissock as a mentor, or just as a boss and a talented chef?
Joshua Bitz: I think of him as mentor and a talented chef, and he’s also my friend. He helped me through a lot of different life experiences along the way, in and outside of the kitchen.
What is one the most important things MacKissock taught you?
Bitz: Mise en place. Being organized and always on time. Showing up early and giving it 100 percent…. Trying to make every single guest experience the best that it possibly can be.
What did MacKissock’s mentorship mean for your career?
Bitz: He gave me the confidence and the belief in myself that I could go further than just being a line cook.
Max, you’ve had a lot of cooks under you. What was it about Joshua Bitz that made him stand out?
Max MacKissock, chef and mentor.
Max MacKissock: When Josh first started with me, his skills were pretty green. He has the best attitude in a person I’ve ever met. He’s a joy to work with. Every single day, he has this incredible outlook on life. He’s had unfortunate circumstances in his life … but it doesn’t matter. He’s always happy, always in a positive mood. It’s infectious with the rest of the staff.
Can you guess one thing Bitz said he learned from you?
MacKissock: No. [Then, when told that Bitz said MacKissock helped him develop a greater appreciation for vegetables, he had this to say.] I’m glad that he learned that, for sure. That was definitely a point of emphasis, respecting the ingredients. That’s super important to me as a cook, [something] that I want to pass on.
Did you have a mentor?
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MacKissock: Funny enough, I’ve had so many…. I bounced around to a lot of kitchens, so I can’t say I had a strong mentor. I was also pushed into lots of leadership roles. My wife [Jennifer Jasinski] has been a huge mentor to me, not only in the kitchen but in how to run a successful business. Any situation I’ve had over the years, she’s been an invaluable resource.
Bitz and MacKissock aren't the only chefs in town who challenge the pot-slamming, what’s-in-it-for-me stereotype. In the weeks to come, I’ll talk to other well-known chefs who took fledgling talent under their wings, talent that has now blossomed into some of Denver’s highest-rising stars.