Part two: Z Cuisine's Charles MacDonald destroys Oreos
2239 West 30th Avenue
Don't miss part one of Lori Midson's interview with Charles MacDonald, the chef de cuisine of Z Cuisine.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: Less grammar, more hammer. I say that a lot in the kitchen, but seriously, take your time and do it right is what I tell all of our stages. We do simple food at Z, and in order to pull that off, we have to do it right every time. We also put a lot of effort in finding the best ingredients we can, so it's important that our products are treated with the respect they deserve. On our plate presentations, the rim within the rim has to be clean. Nothing can be on the rim. I can't stand it. Fix it or redo it. And I also don't allow any handling of raw foods with bare hands. And clutter drives me crazy. If you've got the time to lean, you've got the time to clean.
Favorite restaurant in America: Cyrus, in Healdsburg, California. I had the privilege of working there for a short stint with Doug Keane, the executive chef, and his food is beyond description. They source the best ingredients I've ever seen, and his staff executes at the highest level of perfection.
Best food city in America: I think, regionally, Northern California takes the cake -- places like Sonoma, Yountville, Napa, Healdsburg and, of course, San Francisco. Chefs, cooks and the people who live there just have access to some of the best products in America, and that, coupled with some of the most talented chefs around, is a recipe for success. It's the fruit basket of America; there's just a bounty of food there.
Favorite Denver restaurant(s) other than your own: La Mexicana taquería is right around the corner from us, and, oh, man, I eat there all the time. I'm the chef of a French restaurant, but I swear I eat more Mexican food than anything else -- tacos, tacos and more tacos. I also really like Pho 79 , J's Noodles and the sandwiches from Carbone's; these are the places I eat at all the time. Other than that, though, Sushi Den is out of control. It's so good.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: A lot of people pull the "local" and "organic" card these days but don't even know half the farmers in Colorado. If you're going to claim it, then do it. I know it's expensive and more difficult to source locally, but if you attract business by saying you're a "farm-to-table" restaurant, then live up to it. We have some amazing farmers and providers in Colorado doing some amazing things. I would love to see more support for them.
What you'd like to see less of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: Poor execution. I've eaten a fair amount of dishes in Denver that have led to disappointment. Chefs have great ideas, but then don't pull them off right. I'm not saying that what I do is by any means perfect, but I think sometimes chefs get ahead of themselves and try to cook trendy items without fully understanding them. Stick to what you know, I guess.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? When I graduated culinary school, my director and chef gave me an original copy of Larousse Gastronomique that he'd had for years. He signed an inscription on the cover that said, "All great works are built on a solid foundation... Here is one of the best foundations around." I don't know if it was the book, or what he said, or the manner in which he gave it to me, but that's got to be one of the best gifts I've ever been given. I've got to give thanks to Kevin Clarke for that.
Favorite music to cook by: We rock Pandora in the kitchen, so there's always something good playing. Billy Ocean radio has been coming through strong lately, too; Hall and Oates, my man Michael McDonald and those cheesy '80s songs just seem to fit the mood of our kitchen. I have a really diverse crew, though, so we hear it all. A lot of hip-hop (Gucci Mane!) gets played, along with some twangy bluegrass, and I think Taylor Swift has even graced our kitchen's speakers.
Current Denver culinary genius: I don't go out to eat very much, so I'm not as in tune with the scene as some chefs. And while I haven't even eaten here yet, I like what Alex has going on at Fruition. He's got the farm thing working right now, and they just started making cheeses. I've been buying ricotta from him and putting it on our menu, and it's really killer stuff.
You're making a pizza. What's on it? Heirloom tomatoes while they're still in season, chevre curd, basil, arugula, really good olive oil and grilled shallots.
Guiltiest food pleasure? Oreos and milk. I can destroy some Oreos. My wife looks at me in disgust sometimes.
You're at the farmers' market. What do you buy two of? Hot dogs. I buy six of them. My boys in the kitchen love them, and the dude at the Boulder Farmers' Market really knows how to hook up a hot dog. Get a jumbo and ask him to drag it through the garden; he'll know what you're talking about.
Best culinary tip for a home cook: Be patient. Good food takes time. Don't be in such a hurry to eat, and take the time to plan ahead. Give the food the time it takes to develop flavor. If you're starving, have a little snack while you're doing your thing in the kitchen. My wife and I like to pop open a bottle of wine and munch on some cheese and olives while we cook. Most people just aren't willing to put in the time and work.
If you could cook for one famous chef, dead or alive, who would it be? I've got to go with Julia Child. She just looks like she had so much fun in the kitchen. She'd mess up all the time, too, and just run with it. She was real and proved that food is not -- and never will be -- perfect. Plus, I want to have a head-to-head battle over pommes purée with her.
Favorite celebrity chef: Alton Brown. Everyone clowns on him, but he's legit. He knows what he's talking about, and I think the home cook can learn more from him than anyone else. I like how he breaks down food to the basics. That said, I'd most like to cook with Michael Symon. He rocks the shaved head, and I think we would get along in the kitchen.
Celebrity chef who should shut up: Hell, I don't know. I don't watch enough TV to know much about celeb chefs these days.
What's next for you? I don't know if I'll stay a restaurant chef forever. I love everything about it, but eventually I'll break away and do something different -- but still related to food. I really want to start a family, and I honestly have the most amazing wife on the planet. I want to have the time to be with her and do the dad thing for a while. Watch out, though, because I could take few years off and come back on the restaurant scene with a vengeance.
Last meal before you die: Whole roasted pouisson stuffed to capacity with foie gras, chanterelles sautéed in butter, fresh figs, Joël Robuchon's pommes purée, a good bottle of wine, and my wife and a good friend to share it with.
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