Part two: Denver chefs dish on what they wish would disappear in 2012
Justin Cucci, chef/owner of Root Down and Linger, wants to see less pork belly, truffles, lamb, bisques, cream, offal, veal, French desserts, truffle oil, bacon, innards, butter, French influences and people jizzing in their pants over charcuterie.
As we've discovered in our weekly Chef and Tell interviews, Denver's kitchen commanders are, if nothing else, unapologetically opinionated. We pepper them with dozens of questions, and sometimes their answers are salty -- especially their responses to what they'd like to see less of in Denver from a culinary perspective. We're recapping those answers below; here's to a new year with "less fucking with flavors in food," less "gringofied" Mexican food and Groupon, and fewer "colon-clogging" steaks, egotistical chefs, burgers, molecular-gastronomy, food trucks, and social networking sites that dump on chefs and restaurants.
The first installment of what our local chefs would like to see disappear from our culinary landscape in 2012 ran yesterday. Here's part two.
What you'd like to see less of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint:
Theo Adley, The Pinyon
This is where I rant. Being called "America's Foodiest Town" by Bon Appetit was the biggest disservice ever paid to the Boulder/Denver dining scene. It's a laughable title to anyone in the industry for so many reasons. Thankfully, we're a community of responsible diners, which is what I interpret a "foodie" to be. But I think that title has made us complacent. It made everyone feel so fucking comfy. We shop at Whole Foods and call it a day; we buy all the "organic" produce Mexico has to offer because we still want peaches in February; we can buy "local" Colorado trout while ignoring the fact that it's farmed by inmates in Cañon City; and we can buy all the sustainable pork or beef from Whole Foods because they wiped out all the local artisanal butchers. Most people shop at the farmers' market to show off their dogs -- not because they actually want to stock up on food for the week. If we want to be taken seriously in the culinary world, we really need to start being more accountable for the products we purchase. We take this very seriously at the Pinyon, but it's a battle almost every time we need to order food.
Valentino Ujkic, Trattoria Stella
Fewer pizza places. My mile-and-a-half bike ride to Stella's involves dodging pizza places that seem to be spreading faster then a venereal disease from Charlie Sheen. Winning! With seventeen pizza places in one small strip of land, anything different would be good.
Mark Monette, Flagstaff House
Less fast food and more high-quality prepared foods.
Chris Cina, Ghost Plate & Tap
Less "farm-to-table," "farm-to-fork," "farm-to-city," "farm-to-chef" lingo, claims and classifications. Do we really need to advertise something we should already be doing?
Bad fusion food. I just think that people should really know and understand the basics of one cuisine before they create a menu that melds a bunch of different cuisines.
Jared Brant, Park & Co: I'd like to see fewer chefs and cooks with egos. I feel like there are so many kids coming out of the culinary schools here and expecting to be paid $12 an hour because they think they work hard -- or maybe they're all just lazy stoners. But, seriously, the "Denver Five" name just bothers me. I can name five more, ten more, even 25 more chefs that represent Denver. What's up with just the "Five" when there are so many more chefs who are doing such great things? I really like the chefs who have great restaurants and also eat at -- and support -- other Denver restaurants. Chefs like Jeff Osaka and Lon Symensma are always trying out other people's food and supporting new chefs in the city.
Wayne Conwell, Sushi Sasa
Burger joints and cupcake shops. Don't get me wrong: I love a good burger from HBurger, or a moist, yummy cupcake, but don't we finally have enough?
Rob Michels, Japoix
Subpar chicken wing places. I've been here for more than a year, and all I've found are chicken wing places that suck.
Less pork belly, truffles, lamb, bisques, cream, offal, veal, French desserts, truffle oil, bacon, innards, butter, French influences and people jizzing in their pants over charcuterie. And, yes, you heard me right: This is what I want less of. Let the haterade begin.
Luke Mewbourn, Table Mountain Inn Grill & Cantina
Fewer flashy places. Places should care more about the guests and less about status.
Geoffrey Groditski, The Fort
Crappy Mexican restaurants. They're everywhere, and they all have the same menu. It makes me sad when I get a burrito and know the green chile has been thickened with flour to make it stretch, and everything is oversalted. Places that do this give Mexican food the reputation of being dog food when it's not.
Eric Chiappetta, Pizza Republica
A loosening of the red tape and all the other crap that the city enforces on small restaurants. Ease the fuck up! We're trying to add more tax revenue to your busted government. I could open a medical marijuana store in a day if I wanted to -- really?
Enrique Socarras, Cuba Cuba
Horrible bar food -- it's mostly crap. If you're going to serve food -- any food -- take the time and effort to make it something worth serving. If you can't do that, just serve bags of chips, for God's sake. That's a lot better than frozen jalapeño poppers.
Robert McCarthy, Rialto Cafe
Frozen, dyed, Cryovacked shitty tuna.
Will Cisa, The Corner Office
I don't see why every menu here has to have sliders on it. They're so overdone, and I've seriously never seen a city with so many menus that have sliders on them.
Lon Symensma, ChoLon Modern Asian Bistro
I'm still fairly new in town, and I haven't been out as much as I'd like since the restaurant opened, but I have noticed the proliferation of bad Mexican food. Before we moved out here, I thought the Mexican food scene would be a lot more developed than it is, but it seems to be more about quantity than quality.
Jim Cohen, The Empire Lounge & Restaurant
Bad Chinese restaurants. When Chinese food is really great, it's amazing, but I haven't found a Chopsticks -- a place that used great ingredients and where the chef really paid attention to the food -- anywhere in Denver or Boulder since it closed.
Jorel Pierce, Euclid Hall
Less pre-packaged and portioned proteins. This practice has become a crutch in the last few years, and I really feel strongly that every chef should be more concerned about the meat they serve rather than how many six-ounce portions come in a box.
Eli Odell, Highland Tap and Burger
Overpriced, bad food. Denver is so rich with Mexican culture, but I'm completely boggled by how there can still be so many restaurants with terrible, overpriced Mexican food.
Robert Bogart, Elway's Downtown
Fewer underappreciated cooks. I've worked at so many independent restaurants where the cooks aren't appreciated; these guys cook passionately and get no glory. They sweat in the back and put everything they have into service, while the servers and owners reap the benefits. I just believe that giving them a good wage, benefits and some sort of security would actually benefit the industry.
Rachel Kesley, WaterCourse Foods
Some of the most amazing fruits and vegetables can be found in and around Denver and Boulder, and they need to be center stage as opposed to just a side dish. We're moving into a time where people are more health-conscious and more sustainably minded, and having meat-heavy menus is neither one of those things.
Jenna Johansen, former exec chef and still part owner of dish
I'm a proud Colorado native, and I've watched a food scene that wasn't something I was particularly proud of evolve into a much more interesting and vibrant food scene run by passionate chefs who have their own visions. I'm so in love with what's happening in Boulder and Denver right now -- slowly but surely, they've grown into their own, and now we have dining experiences that can compete with any major food town. I believe people vote with their dollar, and watching the independent, creative and well-thought-out restaurant concepts flourish while the lesser-quality joints don't make it shows that people agree with me. If there's anything I'd like to see less of, it's complacency. I sometimes feel like chefs rest on their laurels -- but that seems to be changing.
Next week: What chefs would like to see more of in 2012.