Part two: Ya Ya's Aaron Whitcomb on temper control, the phenomenon that's Alex Seidel and becoming the food critic for Westword
YaYa's Euro Bistro
8310 East Belleview Avenue, Greenwood Village
This is part two of my interview with Aaron Whitcomb. To read part one of that interview, click here.
Six words to describe your food: Playful, classic, experimental, simple, flavorful and technique-driven.
Ten words to describe you: Straightforward, quite loud, quiet, playful, MacGyver-esque, energetic, bipolar and funny.
Culinary inspirations: Thomas Keller for his simplicity and perfection; Alice Waters for being so instrumental in the farm-to-table movement; Daniel Boulud for his decadence; Marco Pierre White for his sheer determination and perseverance; Michael Richard for his playfulness and how much fun he has with food; Auguste Escoffier for his genius and forbearance of all things French; James Beard for his promotion of American chefs and classic American food; Ferran Adrià for pioneering the advancement of scientific cooking; and Jose Andres for his passion, energy and vibrancy.
Best food city in America: I'm somewhat biased because I used to live there, but Chicago has the same diversity as New York, with the laid-back atmosphere of the Midwest. Food-wise, there are really great ethnic neighborhoods where you can get authentic meals, and some hard-core restaurants that will completely blow your mind.
Favorite restaurant in America: The French Laundry. I've never had dining experiences that are closer to perfection in every aspect than the ones I've had at the French Laundry.
Proudest moment as a chef: It's a toss-up between Table 6 getting Esquire magazine's Top 20 Best New Restaurants award and Food & Wine magazine featuring me as "Rising Star Chef." Both happened around the same time, and I couldn't have done any of it without our great team at Table 6.
Favorite cookbooks: The French Laundry Cookbook, because it's all about the pursuit of perfection; Happy in the Kitchen for its playful, yet serious food; The Escoffier Cookbook because of his great French food roots; James Beard American Cookery, a collection of classic American foods; and Culinary Artistry and The Food Bible, two books that are amazing tools to aid my creative process.
What show would you pitch to the Food Network? It would primarily be about pairing combinations of food and wine and how the two work together harmoniously to add to the overall experience. Second, it would be about pairing up winemakers with chefs to create exquisite dining experiences at the wineries -- legit chefs and wineries; none of these generic wineries with mass-made wines sponsoring talentless chefs.
Current Denver culinary genius: With Fruition, his farm, making cheese and beer and the Food & Wine magazine Best New Chef award, Alex Seidel is rolling right now. I mean, what doesn't this guy do? Plus, he's all about proper technique, great ingredients and simplicity.
You're making a pizza. What's on it? Black-truffle crema, mushrooms, pea shoots, bacon, Parmesan cheese, black pepper and an egg yolk at the very end of cooking. Oh, wait: That's already on my menu, and I love it.
You're eating a burrito. What's in it? Usually the only burritos I eat are breakfast burritos with eggs, potatoes, chorizo and cheese topped off with some spicy green chile.
You're at the market. What do you buy two of? Popcorn seeds. My girlfriend makes the best old-school popcorn. It's one of our favorite snacks.
Best culinary tip for a home cook: Have good knives and pans, read recipes all the way through before beginning to cook, and arrange the entire mise en place before you start.
If you could cook for one famous person, dead or alive, who would it be? She was only famous to me, but my grandmother died when I was a teenager and never got to see how her passion for food and cooking rubbed off on and inspired me.
Favorite Denver restaurant(s) other than your own: Troy Guard and his staff at TAG do such a great job of producing fun, flavorful food; Table 6 -- how could this not be one of my favorites? -- because Aaron Foreman and Scott Parker are killing it, while staying true to what Table 6 has always been about: great, fun food in a casual energetic atmosphere; Fruition, because Alex does things so well technically that it's nice to just enjoy his flavors; and D Bar Desserts. I have a major sweet tooth, and Keegan Gerhard and his wife, Lisa, make some of the most exciting desserts in Denver by far.
Favorite celebrity chef: Marco Pierre White, because while most people don't know who he is, the rest of us know and revere him for what he has accomplished -- and how quickly he accomplished it. Talk about the original badass cook, chef and restaurateur.
Celebrity chef who should shut up: Bobby Flay can go the way of the dodo bird for all I care. I think it's his arrogance that drives me crazy. I mean, how many more times is he going to make the same food from the late '80s and early '90s?
What's your favorite knife? Togiharu knives from Japan are some of the best all-around knives I've come across. Togiharu is a multi-generational knife- and sword-making family that still produces incredibly sharp and strong knives that are priced really well -- and all of their knives are hand-edged.
Hardest lesson you've learned: Modesty and temper control. I was a brash and crass young sous chef, and because of my attitude and treatment of the waitstaff, I was fired two days before New Year's Eve. Ever since then, I've worked hard to be more of a leader and an educator than a yeller and demeaning chef. That's not to say, however, that I don't ever slip...
What's next for you? I'm working to develop more chef-driven menus at all of our restaurants, and I've been doing a great deal of consulting with restaurants and resorts around Colorado, and I'm always looking for my next space to do another intimate restaurant and show off all that I've learned over the last several years. It's amazing how much you can learn every day if you just open your mind to it. And, of course, I'm still waiting to become the food critic for Westword. Ha, ha!
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