Part two: Chef and Tell with Nelson Perkins
Nelson Perkins Colt & Gray 1553 Platte Street 303-477-1447 Hours: 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 4-9 p.m. Sunday; brunch 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.
This is part two of Lori Midson's Chef and Tell interview with Colt & Gray chef Nelson Perkins. To read part one of the interview, click here.
Culinary inspirations: I grew up on ranches in Parker, Franktown and Elbert -- all over Colorado -- so the history in agriculture, combined with a longtime love of food and travel, drew me toward people like Jacques Pépin, Michael Chiarello and Julia Child, all people who have a strong knowledge of quality food and the patience and understanding to learn about the roots of what we eat. I later learned to appreciate those same characteristics in chefs like Marco Pierre White, Mario Batali, Fergus Henderson and Dan Barber. And both my parents and grandparents were really good cooks who taught me to appreciate and respect every aspect of an animal. My family ate every part of the animal -- liver, brains, testicles, the tongue...literally all of it.
Proudest moment as a chef: The opening day of Colt & Gray. At the end of the day, I'm a stockbroker-turned-chef, and the fact that we opened this restaurant during a time when the economy was terrible was a hugely proud moment for me. I never questioned whether or not we could do the food; my only question was whether we could get the restaurant open.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: The chef is always right, and use common sense. We run a French brigade system at Colt & Gray, with chef, chef de cuisine, sous chef and so on. We also have the classic stations -- sauté, pastry, garde manger, entre-montier -- so at the end of the day, someone has to be in charge. We have other rules, too, including no cell phones and showing up on time. And we're strict about cleaning; luckily, our cooks have really taken pride in the cleanliness of our kitchen. Having said all that, we generally have a pretty easygoing kitchen, and I try to keep it an enjoyable place to work.
Favorite restaurant in America: I don't really have a favorite, although there is this little French place in New York, Le Bilboquet, that I always seem to want to return to again and again. I'm also a sucker for good sushi, be it Sushi Den, Sushi Sasa, Nobu or anywhere else.
Most embarrassing moment in the kitchen: During my culinary-school final, I failed to check the oven before putting in a braise and didn't notice that the pilot light was out. I checked the dish after about an hour and a half and it was raw. I told my instructor that the oven was broken; she checked the pilot, told me to light it, called me an idiot and walked away. I managed to save the dish and pass the final, but, man, I felt like a dope.
What's never in your kitchen? With the exception of beans and tomatoes, no frozen or canned vegetables.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: Diversity. We're becoming more creative, and we've got some great new high-end restaurants, but I would love to see more authentic ethnic street food -- the real thing, not some restaurateur's interpretation of it. We have an incredible selection of pho joints, but we're seriously lacking good Thai restaurants, and we don't have enough funky, pop-in-your-mouth Asian and South American restaurants.
What you'd like to see less of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: The easy answer is chains, but I'm a capitalist, and I honestly believe that chain restaurants have their place in the restaurant market. I'd like to see fewer restaurant failures, but I know we're still growing as a food city and not everyone has the right business plan. All in all, though, I guess I'm okay with things as they're currently progressing.
Best culinary tip for a home cook: Parboil as much as you can. You can get ahead of the game by parboiling potatoes, beans and many vegetables, and it'll save you tons of time when you're ready to finish a dish.
Favorite cookbooks: I probably have 300-plus cookbooks, and I like them all for different reasons. But the two I go back to over and over again are Larousse Gastronomique and The Flavor Bible. Larousse Gastronomique has everything -- it's the dictionary of cooking -- and The Flavor Bible is a great go-to resource when I'm brainstorming.
What show would you pitch to the Food Network? Nasty Parts. In other words, how to make unpalatable foods palatable. A pig's head, for example.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: I don't find very many foods weird. I've eaten almost every part of most domesticated animals and nearly as many wild animal parts, and I've eaten lots of different sea creatures and even a few reptiles. I've never intentionally eaten a bug, but I would if I had the right opportunity. I guess 100-year-old eggs are a little weird; they're not good. And haggis is a bit strange, but only because of the combination of ingredients. I mean, who decided to chop up the inedible bits of a lamb, mix them with oats, shove it all back into its own stomach and then boil it? Whoever came up with the recipe for haggis must have been incredibly hungry.
You're making a pizza. What's on it? Anchovies. I don't care what else.
You're making an omelet. What's in it? Black truffles. Beyond that, nothing else is needed.
You're at the market. What do you buy two of? Nothing. I have three kids and have to buy three of everything!
Weirdest customer request: A cheeseburger split four ways. They wanted three quarters of the burger cooked medium rare, and one quarter cooked well done. We did it.
Favorite Denver restaurant(s) other than your own: So many restaurants are doing a great job, but unfortunately, with a young family, I don't get out as much as I would like. Still, Sushi Den is a place that my wife and I frequent because she loves sushi and the food is always really solid.
What's next for you? I'm only six months into my first restaurant, so the next step is to continue to refine what we do. Someday, perhaps, I'll have another place; I'd love to do an inn or a hotel.
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