Part Two: Chef and Tell with James Mazzio
This is part two of James Mazzio's Chef and Tell interview. To read part one, click here.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: More chefs going out on their own and expressing their individual culinary talent rather than working for chain restaurants and thinking that they're actually creating good food. I know it's tough out there, but where there's a will, there's a way.
What you'd like to see less of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: Chain restaurants. Denver loves its chains. I don't get the allure. They represent nothing more than mediocrity -- and even that's a stretch.
Best recent food find: Lately, I've been getting living trays of pea shoots that have the most amazing flavor because they're so fresh. I also love the quiches at Les Delices de Paris - they're spot-on perfect, and the pastries are brilliant, too. And I just recently discovered how great the burgers and fries are at Larkburger.
Culinary inspirations: Julia Child, because she just had so much fun cooking, and sometimes we take ourselves way too seriously. As for others, it's the trio of Charles Dale, Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud. All of these guys - geniuses - have very clear visions, let me into their kitchens and allowed me to learn and were very good to me. Thomas Keller makes everything -- and I mean everything -- from scratch, and he never alienated his cooks. He's a true educator, and he encourages the people in his kitchen to grow and create. Daniel inspired me because he's just so fucking good; everything that comes out of his kitchen is incredible. I had dinner once at Restaurant Daniel, and there were four of us. Daniel prepared 48 courses, and not one single dish was the same. In fact, every course was completely different. Some stuff was classically French, and other dishes were wildly experimental. All were amazing.
Best food city in America: Every city, including Denver, has its nooks and crannies with great food, but nearly every restaurant you walk into in New York has amazing food, and frankly, a lot of the mediocre restaurants there would be considered great restaurants in Denver. That's the difference between there and here. There's no denying that New York City is absolutely incredible, but San Francisco and Chicago have just as much diversity. They can fight it out among themselves.
Favorite restaurant(s) in America: Avec and Sepia, which are both in Chicago. They serve incredibly flavorful small dishes -- entertainment for the mouth.
Favorite New York restaurant: I haven't been in a couple of years, but the last time I was there, I ate burgers all over the city, and my favorite was Five Napkin Burger.
Favorite music to cook by: I really like all kinds of music, but if I really want to put the hammer down, I listen to trance. That beat just gets the blood pumping.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: Respect and teamwork are very important. I also ask that my kitchen be kept well-organized and clean.
Favorite cookbooks: I collect cookbooks, and I love all of them, but my favorites are the Food Lover's Companion and the Cheese Primer. I l tend to lean toward the cookbooks that teach you something new. You can never learn too much about cooking.
What show would you pitch to the Food Network, and what would it be about? I'm not telling you, because I'm seriously working on a pitch with a friend of mine from Atlanta, and I don't want to give our secret away, because he'd shoot me. You're pushy.... Okay, I'll give you this much: It's about the togetherness of food and wine. That's all I'm saying.
You're making a pizza. What's on it? Fontina cheese, rock shrimp, pancetta, sliced fresh tomatoes and Pecorino cheese. You also just can't beat a margherita pizza right out of the oven.
You're making an omelet. What's in it? My favorite is brie, fresh porcini mushrooms, leeks and Swiss chard cooked in ghee.
Weirdest customer request: A woman once asked me to strip for a bachelorette party in Aspen...in the middle of the dining room.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: Elk lung. It was like eating a sponge.
Current Denver culinary genius: I don't think anyone in this city -- even in the state -- is a genius. But I have a ton of respect for Brandon Biederman, the chef at Steuben's. I'm a big comfort guy: My clothes are comfortable, my house is comfortable, and I like food that's comforting, and Brandon cooks some of the best comfort food in Denver.
Best culinary tip for a home cook: Play with your food. Go buy a bag of groceries that you wouldn't normally cook with, throw caution to the wind and just cook. Look at a recipe for guidance, but do your own thing.
After-work hangout: My bed.
Favorite Denver restaurant(s) other than your own: Steuben's. The food just speaks to me, and my son and I love the energy.
You're at the market: What do you buy two of? I love charcuterie, sliced meats, cheeses, olives and pickles. I go crazy for all that savory stuff.
If you could cook for one person, dead or alive, who would it be? I've been lucky in that I've had the opportunity to cook for some great chef: Julia Child and Jacques Pépin, who were two of my favorites. They were so warm and gracious and made me feel like I could cook anything. I'm content with having just cooked for the two of them.
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