This is part one of my interview with Richard Glover, exec chef of Fooducopia; part two of our conversation will run tomorrow.
Every so often, you'll hear the lilt in Richard Glover's voice. Born in South Africa and raised in Botswana, Glover, today the executive chef of Fooducopia, speaks several phonetically complicated languages, including Khoisan, the dialects of Africa that have click consonants. You'll rarely, if ever, hear these spoken in any American restaurant kitchen, so Glover practices when he can, interrupting the rapid flow with English-spoken memories of his unorthodox childhood. "I was born in South Africa, but only because there was no hospital within six hours of Botswana. Had I been born there, it would have been under the trees and I would have been surrounded by goats -- I'm not kidding," insists Glover, who says he grew up on a 37,000-acre farm "in the middle of nowhere."
His family raised cattle and grew orange trees; wild game roamed and grazed the property -- but the majority of wanderers were shot, killed and turned into dinner. "It was a whole day's drive just to buy the basics, so we grew our own food and killed our own food, and my mom was a great cook," says Glover. His dad? Not so much. "My dad couldn't boil water, much less cook, but I'll never forget him handing me a knife on my eighth birthday with instructions to go outside and behead three chickens. That was my loss of innocence," he recalls.
He left the knife behind when he took a stab at college and an accounting degree, quickly dropping out to explore Europe for a year and a half and meeting some weird people along the way, including the American who recommended that Glover, who was interested in living in America, move to Indiana. "I had distant cousins in a bunch of American cities, including Seattle, Boston and San Francisco, but Indiana was on there, too, and I was in a bar talking to a total stranger, who looked at my list and insisted that I should go to Indiana, specifically northern Indiana. Little did I know I was heading straight into the cornfields," quips Glover.
Still, he was close enough to an urbanized college campus, Notre Dame, to take another shot at a degree, this time in chemical engineering. But he walked away with only two semesters remaining and started working in restaurants, doing stints as a server, bar back, cook and even an assistant general manager. He wasn't getting paid much, though, so when he was recruited to do research and development for Johnson & Johnson, he ditched the kitchen...for the dungeon. "I was stuck in a lab two stories underground just waiting for the computer to beep so I could hit the next button," recalls Glover.
And then one morning, while he was drinking coffee before trudging back to the lab, he had an epiphany. "I was making $100,000 a year, plus a big bonus, and I absolutely hated every second of it. I'd never been so miserable, and it was a job that was so completely devoid of human interaction that I'd escape to a bar, drink water and tip really, really well just so I had someone to talk to," admits Glover. "I woke up one morning and said to myself that if this was going to be my life, I should quit now and do what I love, which is cooking."
So he packed everything he could fit into his car and started driving west, stopping in just about every city that had a culinary school, including Denver. He'd reached Vancouver when he made the final decision to attend the Colorado Art Institute -- but orientation, he learned, was the next afternoon. "I got back in my car and drove 29 hours straight from Vancouver to Denver," remembers Glover. He arrived just ten minutes late for orientation, a mistake that the instructor pointed out: "I was a good example of what not to do," he recalls. But it turned out that Glover and culinary school were a good fit, and it was the push he needed to return to the kitchen, first as a line cook at Kyoto, a now-defunct restaurant in Aspen Grove that also boasted the culinary talents of Denver chef Duy Pham. When Kyoto closed, Glover started working in the kitchen at Chi, a long-gone restaurant in Washington Park, and when that shuttered, he got a dose of high, high volume at Off Sixteenth, the restaurant housed inside the Crowne Plaza hotel downtown.
Two weeks before he graduated from the Art Institute, Glover started his own business: an energy-bar company called Hulee Super Cookie. And one Sunday, while he was strolling along South Pearl Street during the farmers' market, he met Tim Lymberopoulos, a pilot for Frontier Airlines. The two hit it off, and not long after, says Glover, "Tim called me out of the blue and insisted that I meet him -- now -- at the corner of Race and Kentucky." Glover rushed over, thinking the worst. "I thought there was some emergency, so I was all panicked," he recalls. Instead, Lymberopoulos was pointing to a vacant corner storefront that, in September 2012, he opened as a neighborhood market and cafe called Fooducopia. "We opened as this great market-driven grocer and breakfast-and-lunch cafe, and it's turned into its own little entity that the neighborhood has embraced, and we love where it's going," says Glover, who in the following interview reveals details about Fooducopia's future, admits that he's not in favor of guests who screw with his food, and recounts the night during the Democratic National Convention that still gives him with nightmares.
Lori Midson: What's your first food memory? Richard Glover: My first really good food memory was when I was nine years old and hunting guinea fowl with a friend on the Limpopo River in Botswana. My mother pre-prepared all of our ingredients -- onions, garlic, fresh herbs, broth, tomatoes, potatoes and curry spices -- packed everything up in a backpack, gave us a set of instructions, and off we went on our adventure. A few hours later, we shot a couple of birds and had to clean them in the river while paying really close attention to the ten-foot crocodile nearby so we wouldn't get eaten. We made a fire and pulled out the three-legged cast-iron pot and followed my mother's instructions. The result was an amazing curry. I want to replicate that meal some day.
Ten words to describe you: Honest, passionate, caring, obsessed, crazy, happy, peaceful, ambitious, a food lover and custodian.
Five words to describe your food: Real, truthful, tasty, respectful and fun.
What are your ingredient obsessions? I love to know where my food comes from, where it's grown, and the care and obsession that goes into what I eat. There can be something really magical about fresh-picked heirloom tomatoes or farm-fresh eggs. Dirt: That's the difference between good-tasting and great-tasting food -- and the answer to your question.
One ingredient you won't touch: Sea urchin. Years ago, when I was working at a restaurant called Kyoto in Littleton, the sushi chefs would always give me sea urchin -- and they were always telling me that I would eventually like it. Several years later, nothing has changed: I still have a strong dislike for sea urchin and wouldn't use it in my cooking. That said, every day is a new day, so at some point, maybe my feelings will change.
Food trend you'd like to see emerge in 2014: More farmers, more local food, and more people growing their own food. I wish more people had backyard chickens and indoor herb gardens.
Food trend you'd like to see disappear in 2014: Pho restaurants. Please don't get me wrong: I love pho, it makes me happy, and like most people, I have my favorite pho parlor, but the number of pho restaurants that are popping up everywhere are diluting the good ones. It's like fast food: There's one on every corner.
Favorite piece of kitchen equipment: A coffee grinder turned spice grinder. I love spices, because they can take you away on an adventure to a faraway land. A perfectly spiced curry, for example, is like sneaking off to somewhere exotic; there's something amazing about it.
Your favorite smell in the kitchen: Without question, the smell of sizzling bacon combined with the aroma of brewing coffee at 6 a.m., while I'm getting ready for a busy day in the kitchen. It wakes up your senses and gets the juices flowing.
Favorite dish on your menu: Our pork-belly hash: slow-cooked pork belly with fresh sage, caramelized onions, cage-free poached eggs and hollandaise plated with "rustique" crostinis from Breadworks in Boulder.
What dish would you love to put on your menu, regardless of how well it would sell? In-house boar bacon made from my own boars. I have a huge list in this department.
Weirdest customer request: Breakfast is always filled with strange requests, everything from how people want their bacon cooked to strange, made-up allergies. But my strangest request was for an eight-yolk omelet with hollandaise on top.
What's your biggest pet peeve? Customers who make up their own menu items and want to change everything about a dish. It's the guest who says: "I want this omelet, but change all the ingredients to that one; cook it just like this; let me show you what I want; sub this, change that; put it all on separate plates; and by the way, I'm in a rush."
Your best traits: Creative, non-judgmental, open-minded, passionate and the gift of gab.
Your worst traits: My co-workers call me the Hurricane, because I seem to have this tendency to knock everything over. I'm always hurting myself or running into something. Nearly every day, I spill coffee all over myself, and everyone gets a good laugh at my expense. I still don't think it's funny.
Which talent do you most wish you had? I wish I had a photographic memory so I'd never have to write anything down. My pockets are always stuffed with notes and reminders.
Kitchen rule you always adhere to: Washing my hands. One of the main culprits of foodborne illnesses is person-to-person contact resulting from dirty employee hands. You've got to wash your hands in order to protect customers and the restaurant from a food-poisoning outbreak.
Kitchen rule you're not afraid to break: Drinking a cup of coffee in the kitchen is about the only rule I'll break.
If you hadn't become a chef, what would you be doing right now? A ski bum living in Breckenridge and working on the mountain. Even on my rare day off, I wake up at 5 a.m. to beat the traffic and get the first chair. Skiing was one of the main reasons I moved to Colorado.
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What's in the pipeline? We just got our liquor license, so we can finally start pouring wine, beer and spirits, and for the first time, we're going to offer dinner service, which we'll do five nights a week starting in mid-March. The menu will change seasonally to capture some of the beautiful produce that Colorado has to offer, and I'm building a chicken coop on my farm so we can produce all of our own eggs for the restaurant. The farm is going to be an amazing tool to get the freshest and best possible food for my customers.