Round two with chef Patrick Hartnett: "C'mon people, call ahead"
Part one of my interview with Patrick Hartnett, exec chef of Kachina Southwestern Grill, ran yesterday; this is part two.
Favorite restaurant in America: Kaya, in Pittsburgh. It's a restaurant I opened about twenty years ago, and it's still putting out the most interesting Caribbean food I've ever had. They really push the envelope, and the guests just keep coming back for more. My niece, who was just a couple years old when we opened it, goes there weekly.
Favorite Denver/Boulder restaurant(s) other than your own: Second Home Kitchen + Bar. I worked there when I was doing research and development for Kachina, and I just think they do a great job with their food, and I love the comforting aspect of it.
Favorite cheap eat in Denver: Pho 97. Ten bucks and you're full. It's consistently great, and I go there when I just want to relax and have a simple bowl of goodness.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: More innovation from chefs and restaurateurs, so we can make the Denver-Boulder area the next culinary hot spot in the nation. There are several talented chefs in the area, and the public needs to embrace them by going to their restaurants.
What you'd like to see less of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: Low-quality establishments. I'm tired of going out to a place that has good reviews only to find that it's mediocre at best. I'd like to see restaurants that don't put out good food get called on the carpet because of it. If you're writing a review, don't just give a restaurant credit for showing up.
Most memorable meal you've ever had: My wedding reception at Bouchon with my family and new wife. My friend and chef Mark Miller called and talked to the director of operations, who was one of his former managers, and they made us a meal we'll never forget, followed by a tour of the kitchens for twelve of us at 8 p.m. on a Friday night, right in the crush of service. Amazing.
Favorite childhood food memory: My family had some apple trees in the yard, and one year they were so full that my dad made pies...so many pies: Dutch, streusel, lattice, you name it. That was a great year for us kids.
Favorite junk food: Most days I have the diet of a teenager. I eat burgers, chili, chips and salsa and fries. But deep down, at the core, I'm a candy man. Jelly Belly is my go-to brand.
What's always lurking in your refrigerator? Parmesan cheese, hot sauce, Wright brand bacon, chiles, eggs and butter. I love to make breakfast at home, and I like different layers of saltiness when cooking.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? Modernist Cuisine. My old sous chef, Greg, left it on my computer as a going-away gift when he left for a corporate chef gig. It's awesome.
What are your favorite wines and/or beers? When I lived in Santa Fe, one of my friends was the owner of Santa Fe Brewing, and we did a beer dinner that included Chicken Killer, a beer that he had just developed, and that's how we ended the meal. It's an awesome, really high-gravity beer. For wines, I really like the Bonny Doon Grenache.
One book that every chef should read: On Food and Cooking, by Harold McGee. He's the foremost authority on cooking, and he goes way in depth about what's happening when you're cooking, whether it's whisking together oil, water and vinegar or grilling meat over a hot grill. He tells you why something comes out like it does, and that kind of knowledge can be very helpful in the creative process.
Best recipe tip for a home cook: Get all of your ingredients together before you start cooking. It's called mise en place. So many times I see young cooks forget their mise en place, and then they're scrambling around, so the dish burns or it just doesn't come out right.
What's your biggest pet peeve? Laziness. I can't stand it when someone shirks their responsibility and then just figures it's okay to have someone else pick up the slack and do the work they were assigned. It drives me crazy.
Weirdest customer request: Weird requests are a constant in this business, but it's amusing when the kitchen is going full speed, and then a customer comes in and asks for salsa with no citrus or beans with no onions. It's kind of rude to the other guests, because then someone has to stop cooking and prepare a whole separate dish for this one person. C'mon people, call ahead.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: I didn't like chocolate as a kid, so someone thought it would be fun to give me some chocolate-covered ants and see my reaction.
If you could cook in another chef's kitchen, whose would it be? Michel Bras. His food is beautiful and refined, and I think his Relais & Châteaux restaurant is a definite destination for me some day.
Favorite celebrity chef: Some chefs become a celebrity on purpose rather than for public-relations reasons, and that seems a bit odd to me. We should become chefs to create and make people happy, to give people experiences that they'll remember. And Thomas Keller perfectly personifies that kind of chef. He's done so many things for the industry from behind the camera. He's a great role model.
Celebrity chef who needs a muzzle: Gordon Ramsay. Does anyone disagree? If I acted like that, I'd be fired almost immediately. That may be how chefs used to behave, but not any longer.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: I've won several awards over the years, I've opened many successful restaurants, and I've cooked for the entire who's who of Hollywood, but the greatest accomplishment came from a chef friend from years ago, who found me on Facebook and wrote, "Shit, I thought you'd be dead by now," so I guess I've got that going for me.
Most humbling moment as a chef: I'm humbled often, but when my exec sous chef, James, takes over and really hits the ball out of the park, it makes me feel really good about his successes.
What's your dream restaurant? I'm working in it now. My goal is always to make the place I work my dream restaurant. If you're given lemons, add grain alcohol and make limoncello. I love limoncello.
What's next for you? I'm doing what I love, and I'm so lucky to be in a profession where I can say that. So many people today are working in jobs that they hate and going through life with no sense of accomplishment in their work. I'm lucky that I'm not one of those people.
Last meal before you die: Pizza with fresh jalapeños and pepperoni, with fresh tomato sauce made from cherry tomatoes, fresh basil and a great homemade mozzarella cheese, all baked in a 900-degree wood-fired "woodstone" oven. And a nice bottle of wine and some Jelly Bellys for dessert.
What question should I ask the next chef I interview? Are you a cat person or a dog person?
If you hadn't become a chef, what would you be doing right now? I would have been either a doctor in an ER or a scientist for a food company.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Denver dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.