Round two with Crickett Burns, chef of the Truffle Table
Karin Lawler, co-owner of the Truffle Table, and chef Crickett Burns.
2556 15th Street
This is part two of my interview with Crickett Burns, chef of the Truffle Table; part one of our chat ran yesterday.
Most noteworthy meal you've ever eaten: When my family and I were in Denmark for a long stay, we had freshly caught whole langoustines, smørrebrød (buttered rye bread), the most fantastic feast of meats, fish, cheeses, spreads and accoutrements, and for dessert, fresh strawberries and ice cream. The cows there are fed mainly on sweet peas, and the result is an ice cream with a lovely texture and flavor.
Most underrated Denver restaurant: I'm of the opinion that this is an ever-changing answer. It could be a delicious baked good from a little hole-in-the-wall or just a favorite restaurant. It's whatever inspires me on any given day.
Who's the most underrated chef in Denver? Joshua Bitz, the former sous chef at the Squeaky Bean. I've had the absolute pleasure of working with him and watching him learn and grow for many years, and he's really coming into his own. Get ready, Denver!
What do you expect from a restaurant critic? Anonymity is definitely important. If you know that a critic is judging you, then you tend to fuss over their food a bit more. I think that the love and attention we give to each dish is what should be the focus -- not how extra ridiculously perfectly perfect we can make it for this particular person. Critics should be seated and treated like our regular, fantastic clientele. I do, however, want to know at some point how they enjoyed the experience.
What's your biggest challenge as a chef working in Denver? Finding my own feet, learning my food and how I translate ingredients into food. I'm still learning, but I'm having the most awesome fun doing it. This has been -- and will continue to be -- the ride of my life.
What advice would you give to an aspiring young chef? Try not to be too sensitive; work clean; grow thick skin; and never forget the passion and the love. And you'd better get some good work shoes, because you'll live in them.
What skills and attributes do you look for when hiring kitchen staff? A drive and love for food and solid cooking abilities.
Biggest mistake a chef can make on the line: Lack of -- or poor -- communication can crash a whole restaurant. And keep your attitude in check. Just like in any situation, you have the ability to make or break the atmosphere.
What's your biggest pet peeve? Incompetence.
Your best traits: I'm pig-headed about certain things, I'm a perfectionist in the kitchen and I don't put up with cutting corners. I'm also joyful.
Your worst traits: I'm stubborn.
If you could cook in another chef's kitchen, whose would it be? Yours. You can learn so much about food from a dishwasher, or just about anybody, for that matter. Outside of that, I'd really just like to travel and end up in different kitchens all over the place. How fun would that be?
What would you cook for that same person if he or she came to your restaurant? If it were feasible in my kitchen, I'd likely roast a whole pig and do a roasted chicken with seasonal veggies and fruit -- something simple and perfectly delicious. I'd pickle some things, too, and make a yummy homemade drink.
When guests want to thank you for a meal that really wows them, what do you wish they'd send to the kitchen? Just send a "thank you," or buy me a nice glass of wine or a beer after my shift. We have so many wonderful and ever-revolving wine and beer selections at the Truffle Table that I love...but a heartfelt "thank you" is always a pleasure.
What cookbooks and/or food-related reading material do you draw inspiration from? There are a bazillion answers to this, but I'm currently re-reading Vegetable Literacy, by Deborah Madison, and it's incredible. I've always loved The Secrets of Baking, by Sherry Yard, too. It's an indispensable source for me. I've been blessed with the opportunities and abilities to do sweets and pastry work as well as savory foods throughout my career, which is great, because I have a huge love for both.
Biggest moment of euphoria in the kitchen: Years ago, when I created the first dish of my own, a couple loved it and asked to meet me. They were regulars, and we shared ideas and stories on many nights after that. It was the sweetest moment ever...and I knew I was headed in the right direction.
Craziest night in the kitchen: The original Squeaky Bean -- all of it. It was one of the craziest, most memorable and fun times of my life: nights of ovens barfing smoke in your face; cooking on butane burners -- and the occasional exploding one; slanted and bowing floors; no hoods, which made the kitchen crazy hot all the time; cooking in a shoebox-sized kitchen; and having the best time with my best friends and really making some epic food. That place had it out for me, though. One night, while we were cranking busy, the shelf above me came crashing down, taking all the cookbooks and recipe books with it. They completely decimated everything within the station's circumference. Luckily, I skated to safety, and needless to say, we stopped everything we were doing and cleaned up. Every guest in the place heard the kitchen disaster, and we had to reset the station, but we continued on. And it always seemed that if something were to go wrong in that place, I would be the one involved. As a pretty graceful and careful individual who hardly ever encounters such things, it was a constant comedy. But the memories and bonds that I made are priceless.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: Surviving as a female chef. It's gotten easier over time, I've gotten tougher, and people are more accepting of women on the line these days, but it's definitely been a struggle. I'm extraordinarily thankful for it, though. It's made me stronger, and I wouldn't be who I am today without all the obstacles. And I love what I'm doing now. I have amazing creative freedom, and my sous chef, Michelle Ugarte, is beyond amazing. I knew from the moment she walked in that she was the right fit. Honestly, working here is just wonderful, and I work with -- and for -- the most incredible people. I'm really excited about the future and what I can accomplish here.
What's always lurking in your refrigerator? Things in deli containers -- no Tupperware containers for me -- an army of pickled things, spicy stuff and a lot of rice, which I usually eat with furikake, pickly things, a dash of tamari and sambal, because I'm a sambal junkie. You'll usually find some liverwurst or something of that sort in there, too.
Last meal before you die: An entire wheel of Époisses, which would most likely kill me because I have a cow's-milk allergy. I'd also want my grandmother's fried chicken and a loaf of Michael Bortz's pumpkin bread. He once gifted me a loaf that I devoured, and I can't seem to replicate it, no matter what I do. I'm generally good at re-creating things that I've eaten, so this is a bit of an enigma -- a delectable enigma.
If you hadn't become a chef, what would you be doing right now? Wheel pottery, some type of art, sewing or fashion. Who knows? That said, I'm one of those weirdoes who was born knowing what she wanted to do, and I get to do it every day.
What's one thing that people would be surprised to know about you? I come from a whole family of foot doctors. I also have a crazy-huge love for live music, or music of any variety, for that matter. And I dance. A lot. I've danced my whole life.
What's in the pipeline? There are many things that are changing and many dreams that are finding their feet. Keep a keen eye out for what's next.
What's next for Denver's culinary scene? All of the creations of our beloved mentors are coming into their own. It's a truly exciting time to be cooking -- and eating -- in Denver.
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