Part two: Chef and Tell with Roberto Diaz from Mezcal
3230 East Colfax Avenue
This is part two of Lori Midson's Q&A with Roberto Diaz, executive chef of Mezcal. To read part one of that interview, click here.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: Mexican food for Mexicans -- things like menudo, tongue, brain, that are truly authentic Mexican foods that Mexican nationals grew up with. I remember the street carts in Mexico and eating tacos outside while listening to mariachi bands. There isn't much of that in Denver, and a lot of Mexican food here has been changed to suit the taste of Americans.
What you'd like to see less of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: Less Tex-Mex. I'm tired of it; it's not really even Mexican food. You should never have cheddar cheese on a burrito.
Favorite restaurant in Mexico: Herradura, in Juárez, Mexico. It's like a street fair with gorditas, aguas frescas, fresh tamales and atole. It's Mexican street food all under one roof, and it's all just crazy-amazing good.
Best food city in America: Denver, of course. I really haven't been able to travel around too much. In Mexico, you spend time with your family at home rather than travel. And since I've been in Denver, I've been so busy with my kids, family and work that I haven't had time to travel. But I really want to go to New York.
Favorite music to cook by: Country music -- actually, Mexican country music. I'm a creature of habit, and I'm a country boy, and Mexican country music speaks to me. Riding horses and cooking are where I live. Country music lets me think about both at the same time.
Biggest kitchen disaster: During our first Cinco de Mayo celebration in 2004, we had a transformer blow out in the alley. We had a full house, the bar was three deep, and we were on an hour-and-a-half wait. All of the computers went down, the hoods weren't working, and I had about ten tickets that still needed to go out. So we did the best that we could and brought in a bunch of candles to the kitchen and cooked under candlelight for the rest of the night. Cinco week is always crazy at Mezcal, but I'll never forget this one.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? I love my knives. Some, that I've been using for years, were given to me by my family. The pride I feel in my kitchen when everything is working just right is a really great gift, too.
One book that every chef should read: The Bible. It teaches you faith and how to live your life. Amen.
What show would you pitch to the Food Network, and what would it be about? I'd like to have a Mexican street-food show that would spotlight all the different styles of cooking and foods that you can get on the street corners from all parts of Mexico.
You're making a hamburger. What's on it? Bacon, roasted jalapeños, onions doused with lime and butter, wrapped in foil and thrown on a fire, bleu cheese and more lime juice. I know it sounds weird, but that's the way I like it.
Weirdest customer request: I don't get a lot of those, but I do get asked for cheek tacos often. I think it might go on the next menu. Actually, someone recently asked for a quesadilla without cheese. Uh, that's not a quesadilla! Crazy.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: Grasshoppers in Mexico. They cook them live on the street corners with a little chile powder and fresh lime juice.
If you could cook for one famous chef, dead or alive, who would it be? Kevin Taylor. When I first came to Denver and I worked for him, he inspired me with his passion for cooking and the way he treated the people working in his kitchen.
Current Denver culinary genius: Andre Lobato from Interstate Kitchen + Bar. He has a unique approach to food. It's simple, but done with pride and high-quality ingredients.
Favorite Denver restaurant(s) other than your own: Interstate Kitchen + Bar. I love the way they use bacon on everything -- like the popcorn. I really love El Paraiso, too. They have the best parrilladas, which are these large skillets with all different kinds of meats, veggies and chiles. And I also like Solera. My favorite places are those restaurants where the whole family can sit down and eat together. If I can't take my family, I have a hard time calling it a "favorite" restaurant. One place that I haven't eaten at, but really want to, is Elway's. I like the menu, and I've heard great things about it.
Favorite celebrity chef: I like Guy Fieri. It looks like he has a fun job, and I think I would be great at it -- at least the part where I get to eat all the fun foods and travel around.
Celebrity chef who should shut up: Bam!-man Emeril Lagasse. He's like a clown. Enough with the bam!
What's your favorite knife? A cheap boning knife. I like the precision of it.
Hardest lesson you've learned: When I first started in the kitchen, I didn't speak English very well, and it was hard to communicate with others, so I knew that I needed to learn, even if it was going to be difficult. Now, after years of being in the kitchen, I've learned not only how to speak English, but also how to write in English -- and it's made my life much easier. It's also inspired others in the kitchen to learn the language as well. If I can do it, they can, too.
What's next for you? Mezcal has been good to me, and while I've grown a lot over the last few years, I feel that I still have so much more to learn, as well as to offer those who work with me. Over the last nine months, the menu has changed quite a bit at Mezcal, as I've been given more freedom as a chef to be creative and cook the dishes that I know people are going to love. Having complete control over the ingredients, the menu and the presentation has really inspired me to be the best chef that I can. I see myself growing with our company and making a name for myself as one of the top chefs in Denver. Mezcal is a very unique restaurant. We know as much about agave spirits and Mexican cuisine as any Mexican restaurant anywhere. I'm proud of what we've built, and I'm looking forward to see where we go from here.
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