This is part two of my interview with Richard Glover, exec chef of Fooducopia; part one of our conversation ran yesterday.
Your three favorite Denver restaurants other than your own: Pho 79 on Havana and Mississippi. I love the broth, the herbs are always fresh, and, as per custom, they don't bring a bill to your table, which is considered rude. I've also always had a really nice time at Vesta Dipping Grill. The atmosphere is great, the food is delicious and the staff is well-trained. If I want really fresh oysters and great cocktails, then I'll go to Jax Fish House.
Most underrated restaurant in Denver: To tell you the truth, my own. Fooducopia has some of the best breakfast and lunch items around, but we're off the beaten path in the Wash Park neighborhood and sometimes hard to find. I love it when my regulars bring in first-timers -- just watching the enjoyment on their faces is great. We always hear high praise from our regulars, but most people still haven't heard of us.
Most memorable meal you've ever had: In 2010, I had the chance to go to Maui, and while I was there, I found a locals-only hole-in-the-wall fish market and restaurant that even had its own boat. They'd go out fishing every day, and you never knew what they were going to catch. We showed up on a Wednesday at 11:30 a.m., and they had just caught a 300-pound tuna. I watched in awe at they gracefully broke it down; it was beautiful. Poke was the dish of the day, and I've still never eaten anything like that in my life. It was the freshest and best seafood I've ever eaten. At that moment, I was one with the ocean.
Which living chef do you most admire? It would have to be Ferran Adrià, the chef of elBulli. He worked so hard for such a long time, and when he finally opened his restaurant, it became the best-rated restaurant in the world. To only have 8,000 reservations available total and over two million requests for those reservations -- and to book out the whole year in just a few hours? That's the highest accomplishment. And then you close so you can do whatever you want. Impressive.
Who is Denver's next rising-star chef? Honestly, I've been so busy with everything that's going on my own life that I haven't had any time to keep up with who's rising in the ranks or the next rising star. That said, Alex Seidel, who's not an up-and-coming star -- he's already a star -- is doing some amazing things, and I'm looking forward to what he's got planned for Union Station.
What do you enjoy most about your craft? Making people happy. Food is magical; it creates happiness and brings back joyful childhood memories, plus it's the cornerstone of society and of bringing people together. Creating a good meal is what I enjoy most about my craft -- the smiles of happy patrons enjoying the moment.
What are the most challenging aspects of being a chef? Trying to be everything to everyone. I'm always being pulled in so many different directions, and I spend so much time trying to make everyone else happy, that it's hard for me to get my own time in. I wish I had an extra seven or eight hours a day, because I have so much more that I want to do.
If you could make one request of Denver diners, what would it be? Years ago, one of my culinary instructors gave me this advice: "If you don't like something, try it ten different ways." The takeaway from that is to remember to always try new things and don't give up on the things you don't like...except for sea urchin, which I've tried ten different ways and still hate. Aside from that, take chances and allow your palate to grow, and always keep eating.
What do you expect from a restaurant critic? A critic has the ability to make or break a chef and/or a restaurant, so it's imperative that they're honest and reliable.
Would you ever send a dish back if you were dining in a friend's restaurant? Without a doubt, I would. It would be disrespectful not to send it back. Friends especially should be grateful to have the opportunity to fix the problem and strive to get better. If your friends can't be truthful and you can't accept criticism or you're afraid of getting your feelings hurt, then don't be a chef and put your creations out there for people to judge. We all must learn to take the good with the bad.
Best recipe tip for a home cook: Get a thermometer. Overcooked or undercooked meat is never okay. Also remember to always preheat your oven.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? Cast-iron pots. I cook in them every chance I get.
Favorite culinary-related item to give as a gift: A coffee grinder. There's no excuse for bad coffee. I love changing people's lives with a cup of fresh-brewed, really good coffee.
What's your fantasy splurge? I'd love to buy a ticket into the World Series of Poker, but a seat is $10,000. Would anyone like to sponsor me? I'll happily split all my winnings.
If you could dress any way you want, what would you wear in the kitchen? Slippers. Think about it: They're super-comfortable and warm. I mean, given the opportunity, wouldn't you want to wear slippers to work? It would only make me smile.
If you could have dinner, all expenses paid, at any restaurant in the world, where would you go? Eric Ripert's Le Bernardin in New York. The idea of going to possibly the best fresh-fish restaurant in the country -- maybe even the world -- and having a menu that's broken into almost-raw, barely touched and lightly cooked would be really be fantastic.
It's your night off and you're starving. What's your go-to quick fix? A grilled ribeye steak and a glass or two of wine. Who am I kidding? A whole bottle.
What piece of advice would you give to an aspiring chef? Pay your dues and learn your craft; never forget the people who came before you and all the hard work they've put in; and always strive to improve and grow as a chef. Keep learning to get better at your craft, and pay attention to history and tradition, because they'll help shape your future.
If you could train under any chef in the world, who would it be? Ferran Adrià. I love the idea of food science, and chef Adrià is often associated with molecular gastronomy. To have the chance to learn from someone who in my opinion is the best chef in the world would be an amazing gift.
What skills and attributes do you look for when hiring kitchen staff? Passion, respect for each other, honesty, and someone I can get along with. But above all else, I look for people who have common sense.
If you had the opportunity to open your own restaurant with no budget constraints, what kind of restaurant would you open? A restaurant that's 100 percent farm-to-table. If I didn't grow it, raise it or produce it, I wouldn't sell it. Knowing where every item comes from and appreciating how it was raised is important to me. Guests could experience something really different, following every step of the meal from start to finish.
Biggest mistake a chef can make on the line: Losing your cool. Chill out; it's only food. Don't get the servers all worked up, and don't do something to make the cooks want to stab you. Just remember to have fun.
What's been your worst disaster in the kitchen? I was working at a big downtown Denver hotel during the Democratic National Convention, and we had to do a huge banquet for something like 600 people. I had taken all of the plated cheesecakes out of the walk-in to put them on speed racks to deliver to the guests, and as I was walking down the hallway with two speed racks in tow, they toppled over, breaking 280 desserts five minutes before service. I didn't really recover from that one.
Craziest night in the kitchen: I tend to keep all the stuff that happens in the holy kitchen a secret, but I can tell you this story: I was the lead line cook at the Crowne Plaza restaurant -- Off Sixteenth -- and someone turned off the ticket printer on a Friday night during the Democratic National Convention. It was 7:30 p.m., and we had a full bar and dining room -- plus room service -- and yet there were no tickets coming out of the machine. We were laughing at one point because we thought we had nothing to do, then we all just looked at each other and knew that something wasn't right. Lo and behold, the ticket switch had been turned off, and once we turned it back it on, we had over 25 feet -- no joke -- of tickets spitting at us. I still have nightmares about it.
Biggest moment of euphoria in the kitchen: I've had so many moments of euphoria during my career, but a really recent one stands out: It was the day I received the last signature needed on our liquor-license application and realized that all of the struggles of the past year and a half were finally over. That was a high that will be hard to top.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: Purchasing a 26-acre farm in Conifer to grow, raise and produce the best possible food known to earth. It's something that I'll benefit from for the rest of my career.
What's one thing that people would be surprised to know about you? I'm a total white dude from Africa. Specifically, I'm from a country called Botswana, and have only lived in America for about twelve years. I don't think any Westword reader has ever been within 200 miles of the closest town where I grew up.
What's next for the Denver dining scene? Beer-pairing dinners. We always see wine-pairing dinners, but with the number of local breweries we have in Colorado -- and all the great beer that's produced here -- I see beer-pairing dinners creeping up and taking over. I'm looking forward to that.
Last meal before you die: Bring on the badness of fried chicken. I'd have a twelve-piece bucket, all the sides, and biscuits with honey and hot sauce.
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