Round two with Darrel Truett, exec chef of Barolo Grill
3030 East Sixth Avenue
This is part two of my interview with Darrel Truett, exec chef of Barolo Grill. Part one of our chat ran yesterday.
What do you enjoy most about your craft? The instant gratification of pleasing a guest. I can prepare a dish, and twenty seconds after I have it in the window, the customer has it in front of them. I love it when the server comes back and tells me that table 32 told him that it was the best meal they've ever had. Getting compliments like that makes the long hours worth it.
Describe the biggest challenges facing today's chefs: Trying to stand out and be noticed when there so many new restaurants popping up. And once you are noticed, there's the issue of keeping it that way. Sustainability is difficult.
What do you enjoy most about cooking? It's not a typical day job. Sitting behind a desk at a computer just wouldn't work for me. In the kitchen, I can be creative, I can collaborate with other chefs, and I like being able to see a final product that people enjoy.
What's never in your kitchen? Egos. When we're at work and in the kitchen, it's never about us; you have to work as a team. To earn respect, you have to give it. I would take a less knowledgeable cook with a great attitude and work ethic over a talented prodigy with a pissy attitude any day of the week. Egos get in the way of the ultimate goal of making good food and making the restaurant better.
What's always in your kitchen? Music. From early in the morning till 5 p.m., when service begins, everyone gets a shot at Pandora. Music gets us going, and we listen to everything from the Zac Brown Band to Wu-Tang Clan.
Craziest night in the kitchen: Any night during Denver Restaurant Week where we do close to 300 covers. A normal busy night for us is 150 to 200, so double that and bend over.
What's your biggest pet peeve? Messy kitchens. I like seeing things clean, straight and organized like Michael Voltaggio's idea of 90 degrees, where everyone and everything works and is arranged at 90 degrees. It's part of the organization and fundamentals of the kitchen. I constantly find myself walking by dry storage or getting something from the walk-in and spending an extra two minutes straightening and cleaning up.
Weirdest customer request: We always serve our housemade breadsticks with a dipping sauce, but we change them up, so sometimes it's roasted garlic and parsley, other times it's roasted tomato, and we also do a butternut sage. On this particular night, the dipping sauce was a kalamata olive. A woman requested a soup bowl full of the dipping sauce as her first course. I don't have a problem with people requesting weird things as long as they're happy with what's presented to them. Just remember, though, that you ordered it.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: Andouillette sausage, which is basically a sausage made from pig colon. On one of our free nights during one of our trips to Italy, we went to this cool-looking restaurant in Beaune, France, and we noticed that they had andouillette on the menu. We ordered two for the table so we all could try it. One bite was all I needed. Not for me.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? Last Christmas, my wife and daughter surprised me with the Modernist Cuisine book series. It gives you everything you could want, from history to techniques to plating. Every trick of the trade or secret is found within those pages.
What's always in your refrigerator? Cold cuts or cured meats for sandwiches -- usually prosciutto and some arugula on a focaccia roll at work, or if I'm at home, roast turkey, Muenster cheese and white bread.
Best recipe tip for a home cook: Don't cook bacon when you're naked. Just kidding. How about, just let it cook. When you add chicken, fish or beef to a hot pan -- and it sticks -- don't touch it. The flesh will release when it's ready, and that's when you turn the fish or meat.
Favorite food city in America: San Diego, especially La Jolla. Every year, we try and take a family vacation, and we've gone to San Diego for the past few years. We enjoy the seafood and outdoor dining experience at George's at the Cove, now known as California Modern. The view is spectacular, and chef Trey Foshee's menu always has awesome seasonal California produce, plus his dishes are artfully presented.
If you could change one thing about the Denver dining scene, what would it be? A high-quality, late-night good-eats joint -- something similar to Blue Ribbon Restaurant in New York City, a place where chefs can hang out after work to wind down.
Favorite celebrity chef: Charlie Trotter. During culinary school, before I went to class, I'd always watch Charlie Trotter's Cooking Sessions on PBS. I have every book he's written, and I appreciate his philosophy behind his food, and his community efforts are equally commendable. He was also the guest speaker at my graduation from Johnson & Wales University, and I got to meet him.
Which chef has most inspired you? Davide Scabin. After an amazing meal two years ago in Rivoli, Italy, at Combal Zero, we went back into the employee lounge to meet the man himself. We sat there till 4:30 in the morning talking shop and exchanging stories. This past trip, we returned to Combal Zero, and after the meal, we drank herbal infusions -- basically a vodka tonic infused with citrus and herbs -- and ate plate after plate of antipasti until 6:30 in the morning. Chef Scabin is so dedicated, passionate and creative, and he puts so much thought into every single dish that leaves the kitchen that it makes me want to push myself to cook on that same level.
If you could cook in another chef's kitchen, whose would it be? Davide Scabin. I'd love an opportunity to work side by side with someone who inspires me, and being able to do it in Italy would definitely be an added bonus.
Celebrity chef who needs a muzzle: Alton Brown. He knows everything about food and we know that, but does he have to rub it in our face every time he opens his mouth?
Most humbling moment as a chef: Whenever I go into the dining room and hear the regular customers tell me that the food is better now than it's ever been -- that they can really feel the attention we're giving to the food since I've taken over, and having them tell me I'm doing a good job and that they're happy. When our guests are happy, I'm happy.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: Two years ago, when I got a phone call from Blair Taylor letting me know he wanted to give me the opportunity to run the kitchen at Barolo Grill. Whenever you get a job, you always want to progress and make it to the next level. I felt like all the hard work I'd done up until then had finally paid off.
What's next for you? Right now, I'm happy right where I am. I want to continue to put out really great dishes and work on some creative new ideas for my new menus.
Last meal before you die: The sandwich Adam Sandler eats in the movie Spanglish. If you watch the extras on the DVD, the sandwich is actually a Thomas Keller creation. He gives a step-by-step demo on how to make one, and every now and then at home, I'll make one with a really nice sourdough bread, Muenster cheese, lettuce, tomato, bacon and a fried egg. In the movie, Sandler washes it down with a beer. I'd probably have a root beer.
What question should I ask the next chef I interview? What was the last cookbook you bought, and what recipes are you cooking from it?
If you hadn't become a chef, what would you be doing right now? There was a time when I wanted to be a stockbroker, but at this point in my life, I really can't imagine doing anything else.
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