Part two with JP Krause, exec chef of Aloft
Part one of my interview with JP Krause, exec chef of Aloft Broomfield, ran yesterday. This is part two of our interview.
Favorite restaurant in America: Denver's own Bennett's BBQ, but not because of the food. It's all about the memories that have a special place in my heart. I haven't even been there since I was probably twelve, but I remember going every week with my family to see my grandma and grandpa. We would meet there, and all of the kids would always be bored, but it wasn't until Grandpa Bernie passed away that I really understood how the place, and even the smell, could really bring back memories. I think that's why I haven't been back there, because I'd want to run in, take some candy off the hostess stand, turn the corner and expect to see my grandpa enjoying ribs...just like I did when I was a kid.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: I'd love to see more integrity and honesty represented on restaurant menus, especially when it comes to farms. I worked for someone in the past who put the names of real farms on the menus, despite the fact that the farms didn't even really supply our restaurant. After I saw that, I was determined to honestly represent where our food actually comes from.
What you'd like to see less of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: Fewer copycat coffee shops. There are so many of the same exact coffee shops around here that sell the exact same products. In other major cities, there are so many independently owned coffee shops with so much variety. I just don't see a lot of that variety here. Then again, I drink tea. I was recently in Seattle, and it was so fun to get a different chai from different independent shops every day. Getting a drink from a small business owner who's proud of his individual style isn't something we get enough of here. There's nothing better than getting great customer service, supporting a local small business, and relaxing in a place that isn't as hustle-bustle as the big brand everyone knows.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? Hands down, the Le Creuset pot my wife got for me. They're excellent when you're slow cooking, because they hold heat really well and distribute it equally well across the bottom. Making pulled pork has never been so easy.
What are your favorite wines and/or beers? I'm keen on pumpkin beer right know, and I'm really enjoying the Peach Porch Lounger from New Belgium, or Great Divide's raspberry beer. When it comes to wines, I like a sweet, crisp riesling or champagne.
Favorite childhood food memory: Pumpkin pie with a big dollop of Cool Whip. It just reminds me of family and sitting together at Thanksgiving with my grandparents, not to mention that just the smells and spices of cinnamon and nutmeg with pumpkin should permeate the world. From pumpkin spiced latte to pumpkin cheesecake, there's a big reason why we all love pumpkin, especially pumpkin pie.
Most memorable meal you've ever had: I was in a two-month training program at Summit restaurant at the Broadmoor as a line cook before we actually opened, which gave me a chance to learn the essentials, try out recipes, and even work closely with Jacques Pépin for a little bit. After all the training and time we spent to set everything up, the staff had a chance to eat in the dining room for the soft opening. It was such a great experience seeing it as a customer, and it was the first time I really sat back and noticed all the details and how much I could impact the guest's experience firsthand.
Favorite junk food: Pretzel M&M's. Ever since our first pack, my wife and I fight over who gets the last one. It's bad when only the Costco-sized pack will do.
Weirdest customer request: The absolute weirdest request was a man who claimed that his diet required him to only eat steak and lobster for his dinner every night. We obliged with no hesitation, but I'll never forget it.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: I tried balut, the fertilized duck embryo boiled in the shell. It didn't taste as bad as I expected, but the smell wasn't great. I don't think I'll be eating it again any time soon.
One book that every chef should read: I'm Just Here for the Food, by Alton Brown. As a kid watching Bill Nye the Science Guy, Alton Brown just fit perfectly into what I needed as a young teen interested in food. The simple breakdown of science, explaining different equipment and the use of temperatures instead of times, really sparked a connection with me.
Best recipe tip for a home cook: Play around with the different alcohols in your pantry. Adding a touch of a good aged rum or even something like a blackberry vodka to your sauces for bread pudding, for example, really make it a standout dessert. There are so many interesting flavored alcohols that have recently gone on the market that you'll never have to serve boring treats again.
Biggest compliment you've ever received: I was once told my mashed potatoes tasted just like the boxed ones, which at first seemed a little insulting. But then the person explained to me that they were so perfect, how could anyone actually make them from scratch?
What are your biggest pet peeves? I really hate people who can't admit when they mess up. When you make a mistake, no matter how big or small, just admit it rather than trying to cover it up. Jump in and help to find a solution. The standard excuses of "My bad" or "Oops, sorry" just don't cut it. If you're honest from the get-go, even if I'm upset, at least you've owned up to it. It's all about taking pride in yourself.
Culinary heroes: Anthony Bourdain -- and not just because he wrote Kitchen Confidential. He also brought a melting pot of food to people through his different shows by visiting so many places around the world and helping to grow the culture of food in ways not possible decades ago. I know he gets a lot of credit for his book, but I'm not sure he gets enough credit for really expanding the world's love of foods from all over the globe. I'm also a big fan of Ferran Adrià. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to eat at El Bulli, but I've read his recipes, and his ideas have changed the way I want to serve food to my guests. He's really amazing when it comes to transforming presentation.
If you could cook in another chef's kitchen, whose would it be? Homaro Cantu at Moto restaurant, in Chicago. I've never been to his restaurant, but it's on my bucket list of places I need to go. Just seeing what he's done in his half molecular lab-half kitchen has inspired me to think outside the lines of what a meal should look like and taste like.
Favorite celebrity chef: Jamie Oliver. I really applaud what he's tried to do -- and what he's accomplished -- with improving school lunches. I never really liked breakfast growing up, so lunch was my first real meal of the day, and it was usually healthy, but today's kids eat so many processed foods with refined sugars, and they have unlimited access to pizza and fries, plus they don't get a lot of nutrition at home, either. I'm glad that Jamie Oliver stands up for what's right, and that he's made people stop and think about what we're putting into our kids' bodies.
Celebrity chef who needs a muzzle: Guy Fieri. I guess I just don't understand why he's so popular. Is it because he eats greasy food that makes you sleepy just watching it on TV, or is it because he has a haircut that reminds me of what was cool in the year 2000?
What's your best piece of advice to culinary-school grads? Get your first job making "family meal" for the staff, or cooking for the employee cafeteria if you're in a large hotel. By starting there, you learn about timing and budgets, and you're exposed to ingredients you're not used to. Plus, your staff is a lot more lenient than customers if you're five minutes late putting out a meal, so use the time to get down the timing skills. When there are leftover items or scraps of a random vegetable, this is the time to get creative, to make a curry or a soup and see what happens. Use the time to ask questions and develop your passion. When I was making family meal, I learned what my style and tastes were and what was good and bad -- and if it's bad, the staff will happily remind you for a good week or two.
Most humbling moment as a chef: When I made food for the Samaritan House for Thanksgiving. I didn't do anything out of the norm, but just used my time and skills to bring families a deserved holiday smile. It's that kind of thing that makes me glad I can share my passion for food in a positive way.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: Finishing my sous-chef certification through the American Culinary Federation. When I started the process, I didn't realize how long and hard the road would be, and I won't lie: I failed the first time I took the practical, and it tore me up, but in the process of training to retake it, I pushed myself harder than before, and I made food that I wasn't just proud of, but great food that really earned that certification. I didn't go to an official culinary school; I went to a secondary-education program in San Diego, where I worked as an apprentice. Getting hands-on experience and working one-on-one with my mentors taught me more -- and in less time and money -- than going to a proper school. It was very important for me to finish that certification to prove not only to myself, but to others, that you can achieve the same level or higher by working hard.
What's your dream restaurant? I've always wanted to open up a gelato and sorbetto shop. There are so many flavors of gelato, and so many fun twists. How cool would it be to make daily specials, try out new things -- and at the end of the day, it's all about ice cream?
What do you have in the pipeline? We just started introducing chef's specials in Wxyz Bar, which has given me a great opportunity to put out homemade, fresh foods. We're working on making a few other changes to the menu and just updating the whole experience. I'm posting more stuff on my blog, which gives readers an inside look into my food, and I'm also working with New Belgium Brewery on some special pre-concert beer-and-food pairings, since we're just a few blocks from the 1STBANK Center. I'm really lucky to work with a management team that's willing to try new things and let me open up my creativity door.
What's one thing that people would be surprised to know about you? I have a rare genetic disorder called hereditary coproporphyria, which is an acute hepatic disorder that makes me very sensitive to sunlight, easily dehydrated, allergic to alcohol, and delivers severe abdominal pains that have even led to hospitalization. I can't eat beef, so no burgers, no steaks and no demi-glace. I don't even know how they taste after years of not eating them, so I have to rely on the people around me when I use those items. On the upside, it's given me the opportunity to explore many other proteins like chicken and pork in depth -- and the pig is delicious.
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