Part two: Chef and Tell with Chad Clevenger
This is part two of Lori Midson's interview with Chad Clevenger, exec chef of Mel's Bar and Grill. You can read part one of Midson's interview with Clevenger here.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: Work clean, work quiet, ask questions if you don't know the answer, respect your team, taste your food, don't bitch and moan, and put things back where you found them because your mama doesn't work here. If you can't follow these few simple things, then peace out.
Culinarily speaking, Denver has the best: Straight-up Asian food. All of the pho restaurants, Korean barbecue joints and Vietnamese places like New Saigon make Denver one of the best cities, behind San Francisco and New York, to grub Asian cuisine.
Culinarily speaking, Denver has the worst: Barbecue. It's totally my thing, and I think I've tried most of the places in town and maybe two are decent -- I like Big Hoss and Brickyard BBQ. Denver also needs a better market or store that caters to all types of cuisine and ingredients -- something like Central Market in Texas. That place makes Whole Foods look like a 7-Eleven.
Proudest moment as a chef: I was working at the Coyote Cafe as the exec sous chef under one of my mentors, Brad Borchardt, who was the exec chef. Brad was a badass -- a guy who had worked for Boulud, Trotter and Keller. He was leaving the Coyote to head up the Grand Park Hyatt Hotel in Tokyo, and when he left, Mark Miller, the owner of the Coyote Cafe, put me in charge of running the show for a few weeks heading into the Wine and Chile Festival. Rick Bayless was the guest chef, so I was nervous -- like holy-shit nervous. For two days, I cooked alongside Miller and Bayless, making birria, ceviches and all kinds of awesomeness. As we were getting ready to start the service for one of the events, Miller walks out to the middle of the dining room and announces that this year's guest chef is none other than famed Chicago chef Rick Bayless and that the Coyote Cafe's new executive chef, Chad Clevenger, had prepared the dishes with Bayless. I remember saying to myself, did I really just hear Mark say that I was the new executive chef? I was in shock. I wanted to run in circles. Needless to say, it was the easiest and happiest 650-plate event I ever took part in. It was a dream to be 25 years old and honored with that title. Definitely the proudest moment of my career.
Favorite cookbooks: Alain Ducasse's Flavors of France; Diana Kennedy's Essential Cuisines of Mexico; Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen; Gotham Bar and Grill Cookbook, by Alfred Portale, all the Jean-Georges cookbooks, anything by Michel Richard, the chef at Citronelle, and I also like James Peterson's stuff.... The list goes on and on.
Favorite New York restaurant: Le Bernardin. I had dinner there with Mel and Janie Master, and it was just ridiculous. The service -- all French servers, all speaking French, all in suits -- was perfect, and the food was amazing, clean, balanced and not over the top. The fluke ceviche tasting still makes my mouth water, and the surf and turf of skate wing and pork belly -- wow. I can't wait to go back.
One food you can't live without: Whoa, that's a tough question. I have a few. Is that okay? It's a toss-up between barbecue, biscuits and gravy, and carnitas with green chile. Without all three, I'd probably have a coronary. I grew up in the South, where barbecue is a weekly thing and the biscuits and gravy are amazing -- much better than any butter-poached lobster, foie gras or filet mignon on the planet. And green chile and carnitas? What's not to love?
You're making a pizza. What's on it? Some type of cured pork, like guanciale, ricotta, grilled arugula, a little chile flake, lots of mozzarella and shaved Parmesan. You're making an omelet. What's in it? It has to be soft and a little runny, and I like it with chives, goat cheese or Époisses and salt and pepper. It's simple, but oh, so good.
After-work hangout: My casa, watching TV and relaxing, and occasionally Sancho's Broken Arrow.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Denver dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.