Round two with chef Mark Fischer: "Embrace humility"
The Pullman 330 7th Street, Glenwood Springs; 970-230-9234 www.thepullmangws.com
Part one of my interview with Mark Fischer, exec chef-owner of Phat Thai, The Pullman and Six89, ran yesterday; this is part two of our chat.
Most memorable meal you've ever had: It's more a function of context: more "who with" and "when" than "where," but the ramen at Aji-no Sanpei on "Ramen Alley" in Sapporo stands out. There's no ramen on our menu, because the memory of that simple dish still haunts me. I could never come close to duplicating it.
Favorite restaurant in America: Pok Pok, in Portland. It's an inauspicious start: White guy cooks legitimate Thai food; huge implications and influence; a commitment to keeping it authentic; his unwillingness to compromise.
Favorite cheap eat in Denver/Boulder: The Cherry Cricket. It's like an oasis of provincial reason...with damn good burgers.
If you only had 24 hours in Denver/Boulder, where would you eat? Pablo's for coffee in the morning, because it's unassuming and has the baddest baristas in the city; Bones for lunch because of its elegant simplicity; and Oak at Fourteenth in Boulder for dinner, because they truly get it.
Favorite childhood food memory: My mother's cooking was marginally acceptable, but her chocolate chip cookies were the shit.
Favorite junk food: Root-beer milk. But it's milk, so is it really junk food?
Favorite dish on your menu: That's like asking me to pick my favorite child. It'd manifest itself in years of therapy.
Biggest menu bomb: Fish-head curry. Admittedly, the name can be off-putting, but people can be so closed-minded.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: Have your shit together; actions speak louder than words; don't take yourself too seriously; respect each other, the product, your purveyors, your guests and your community.
What's never in your kitchen? Apathy. If you don't genuinely care about your career and your job and that collective goal, you've got no place with us. That and lavender.
What's always in your kitchen? A common goal and a legitimate work ethic. Having a tight crew that "gets it" and who enjoys working together makes all the difference in the world. It's not just about a paycheck.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? A tasting spoon from David Thompson, a British-born chef who cooks legit Thai food in Sydney, Australia. Grey Kunz, another truly badass Swiss chef, who was born in Singapore, designs the spoons. I'm certain you can appreciate its significance.
One book that every chef should read: Limiting this to one is absurd. I'm a cookbook nerd; I have this obscene obsession with cookbooks that numbers in the thousands -- which may (or may not) make me a better cook. All it really means is that moving can be a bitch. But to answer the question, start with Roast Chicken and Other Stories, by Simon Hopkinson, then follow with The Whole Beast, by Fergus Henderson. Next you should read Elements of Taste, by Grey Kunz, then immediately read Ideas in Food, by Kamozawa and Talbot. Continue with Mugaritz, by Andoni Luis Aduriz, and segue into Modernist Cuisine, by Nathan Myhrvold. Finish with Eat Me, by Kenny Shopsin, because by now you'll be taking yourself way too seriously.
Best recipe tip for a home cook: Recipes are a bitch; you can't document the hands of a cook, but always -- always -- season with authority.
What are your biggest pet peeves? An uninformed comment, the ability to broadcast it to a large audience, closed-minded people and entropy.
What's your best piece of advice to culinary-school grads? Embrace humility. Aspiring to anything less than the remarkable is a waste of time and effort. Biggest compliment you've ever received: When former employees thank me for the education and the time they were able to spend in our restaurants, or when farmers or ranchers thank us for treating their products so well.
Culinary heroes: Fergus Henderson, Frank Bonanno, Andy Ricker, Cindy Pawlcyn and Jack Reed.
If you could cook in another chef's kitchen, whose would it be? One of the greatest things about our industry is that this is possible, almost anywhere and anytime. It's (in my estimation) one of the greatest ways to grow professionally. The stage: Most chefs and kitchen crews welcome that free labor. The stagier: There's so much to be learned from any kitchen. These would be my top three: The French Laundry, which sounds pretty cliché, but it's cliché for a really good reason. It's that quintessential learning and proving ground for any cook worth his salt. Second would be el Bulli. Ferran Adrià changed the whole game with his restaurant in Roses; that it has closed is tragic for those of us who never had the opportunity to go. And it was revolutionary, given the style of cooking they created and then constantly redefined. And his relentless pursuit of creativity is hugely inspiring. I'd also like to stage at St. John, in London: Fergus Henderson shows that cooking doesn't have to be complex to be interesting and that it can be simple without being easy. And it's not just offal cookery for the sake of cooking offal -- there's something deep and resonant and resolutely honest about Fergus's connection to organ meats and off-cuts.
Favorite celebrity chef: Julia Child, for her genuine and sincere passion for the sport. I watch The French Chef reruns...often, and the most iconic moments happened when she fucked up. When a potato cake she was trying to flip failed and there was crap all over the counter, she came clean with: "I didn't have the courage to do it the way I should have. But you can always pick it up, and if you're alone in the kitchen, who is going to see?" Julia Child was a charming combination of droll wit and fortitude and a willingness to look foolish. She exposed a generation of Americans to the world of fine eating, and to the rigors and joys of preparing food as an art form. She was the first badass in American kitchens.
Celebrity chef who needs a muzzle: You mean who annoys me this week? At the end of the day, they're all probably more talented than I am and make way more money than I do.
Most humbling moment as a chef: This is where I ramble. Any degree of success in this business is predicated on a certain degree of humility. Being younger and more naive, the desire and excitement you feel at the prospect of having your own place stops you from thinking twice about what you're about to do. But there are certain things you have to do without thinking, or they end up never happening. It would have been enough to be forewarned of the ridiculous effort to get where we're at today, and we're not anywhere close to realizing our potential, but we've gone much further than we could have ever expected -- the dishes we take pride in; the people we've come to know; the growers and the ranchers; and those other kindred souls who do the same thing we do. But at the end of the day, they're just restaurants, and tomorrow you start all over.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: It's still pending. Stay tuned.
What's one thing that people would be surprised to know about you? I am the embodiment of social ineptitude.
Last meal before you die: Green papaya salad from Sailor's Thai in Sydney, seared foie gras from Au Cheval, in Chicago, roast chicken from Bocuse, in Lyon, a doughnut from Voodoo, in Portland, with root-beer milk (of course) and an espresso from Pablo's. With my wife.
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