Part two: Chef and Tell with Samir Mohammad
The Village Cork
1300 South Pearl Street
This is part two of Lori Midson's Chef and Tell interview with Samir Mohammad. To read part one of that interview, click here.
Culinary inspirations: Ever since I was a child, I've looked up to my uncle Damon Simonton. He's a badass chef in Taos who taught me the importance of using local ingredients and of using every single scrap of food. I also get inspired by food itself. I like to study dishes and ingredients, because then ideas just come to me, and I love how you can use a single ingredient in so many different ways and preparations. My customers also inspire me: I like to keep them guessing about what I'm doing next; it's great motivation.
Proudest moment as a chef: In 2005, I participated in the Great Chefs of Taos wine dinner, where I worked alongside some chefs that I really admire. I made Belgian endive stuffed with apple-smoked duck confit, duxelles of chanterelle and oyster mushrooms, julienned jicama topped with a sweet orange glaze and Chimayo-infused oil that I paired with a New Mexican Riesling.
Best food city in America: San Francisco. It's a city that's been doing food right for years. Most of the chefs there grow everything themselves, and if they don't, they really make an effort to only use local ingredients. Chefs in San Francisco are humble, and they let the food speak for itself. Not only that, but the city has some of the best Thai and Italian restaurants in the country. If you spend enough time there, you'll fall in love with the food just as much as I did.
Favorite music to cook by: Black Sabbath, any Motown or whatever groovy music my boss introduces me to.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: Respect your food. 'Nuff said.
Favorite restaurant in America: Chez Panisse. Alice Waters is an amazing chef and activist in the Slow Food movement. Her menu changes daily and she grows most of her own produce, which makes her food wholly unpretentious. The way she prepares her seafood is just so amazing, because she lets the product speak for itself. I would love to get my kitchen to the point where we can change the menu every day.
Most embarrassing moment in the kitchen: I was meeting my girlfriend's parents for the first time and decided to make dinner, but I was a little nervous and had a couple of cocktails...maybe one too many. I'm taking too long to cook and everyone is hungry, so I'm rushing around trying to get everything done, and I end up dropping the whole pan of chicken cordon bleu on the floor. I applied the five-second rule and it turned out fine, but I was mortified.
Culinarily speaking, Denver has the best: I think Denver really has a true appreciation for game meats. In the fall, you can find it on a lot of menus, and most of the restaurants that serve it do it really well.
Culinary speaking, Denver has the worst: Fried chicken. I have yet to find me a place with amazing fried chicken. Either it's pre-processed or the breading is too heavy or it's too light. I guess I'll have to just keep making it at home -- unless someone can point me in the right direction.
Favorite cookbooks: I don't need a recipe to tell me how to do my job (unless it's baking), but I am a fan of Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, because it's a book that I can always go back to when I want to rediscover something that I may have put in the back of my mind. It's also a lot more than just a book of recipes; it's educational, and I like learning about new foods. I also love The Joy of Cooking. I think the book I have is the fourth edition, and it's beaten and battered, but it's still one of my favorites, because there are great discussions in it about classic dishes.
What show would you pitch to the Food Network? Blind Kitchen, where a chef would have to go into the kitchen of someone who isn't very food savvy and make a simple three-course meal out of whatever's in their pantry, and basically show them how simple it is to create a meal out of nothing.
Current Denver culinary genius: I don't think there's just one. I think most of the chefs in Denver are badasses in their own individual way. We have a very eclectic mix of chefs here, which makes for a great dining city, and most people seem to appreciate all the hard work we do.
You're making a pizza. What's on it? Extra virgin olive oil, garlic, duck prosciutto, Stagionato cheese, Grana Padano, black pepper and arugula.
You're making an omelet. What's in it? Two-year clothbound cheddar and black pepper.
You're at the market. What do you buy two of? Jolly Rancher gummies. They're my absolute favorite candy and late-night treat.
Best culinary tip for a home cook: Season everything you cook and learn temperature control. It took me a few years to realize that you don't cook everything on high heat.
After-work hangout: At home with my girlfriend and a room-temperature rocks glass full of whiskey.
If you could cook for one person, dead or alive, who would it be? My Uncle Damon. He's inspired me so much, and he's had a major influence on my cooking style. Not only that, but he's created one of my favorite and most memorable dishes: torchon of foie gras with pomegranate syrup. I would love to return the favor.
What's your favorite knife? I have a cleaver that's one solid piece of steel that my mom gave to me about eight years ago. I don't use it too often, but it has great sentimental value to me.
Hardest lesson you've learned: In this industry, you can be on top one day and looking for work the next. I've contemplated finding another line of work, but I just can't seem to stay away from the kitchen. The thing is, you have to get back up on your saddle and work your way up again. I've learned to stay humble and never think that I'm at the top of my game. There's always room for improvement.
Get the Dining Newsletter
The week's top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips, and a peek at our print review.