Round two with dish's Jenna Johansen
56 Edwards Village Boulevard, Edwards
This is part two of my interview with Jenna Johansen. Part one of this interview ran yesterday.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: Opening my restaurant. I've done a lot of work to get to where I am, and I've planned my career very carefully. I've done it all, from working for free to moving to Italy to waiting tables -- I'm the worst server ever, because I talk about the food way too much -- to washing dishes and scrubbing stainless along the way. I've done it all -- and still do. Titles, competitions and awards don't motivate me, but when a guest stops at the kitchen on the way out of dish to tell me they've just had a life-changing aha! moment because of my Brussels sprouts, or that they just had one of the top meals they've ever had, that motivates me. That, to me, is an accomplishment.
Favorite restaurant in America: It isn't open anymore, but Boulder natives will remember Fred's Steak House on Pearl Street. Fred used to sing music every night, and he'd sometimes let me sing with him, plus he was great friends with my Grandpa Jo. My whole family loved that restaurant, and I've never forgotten how happy I used to feel being there. I think hanging out at Fred's was one of the seeds that was planted that led to the hunger I had to be in this insane profession. It also burned into my brain the importance of making customers feel like family, since they trust you to feed and nourish them every week. I look at them as family, too.
Best food city in America: Portland. I went there on my last vacation for the sole purpose of eating -- and foraging with a man named Running Squirrel. My crush on that town knows no boundaries. There's inspired, gutsy and delicious food around every corner.
Favorite Denver/Boulder restaurant(s) other than your own: Usually, it's the restaurant where I had my last meal. Larkburger is my favorite when I want an amazingly delicious burger -- rare, no cheese. I also love Domo and Fruition. The food that Alex -- and those talented men at Fruition -- crafts is so damn delicious. I was recently at Alex's farm in Larkspur, and he made the most amazing pork belly cooked in sheep's milk. I've probably talked about it every day since it hit my lips. I'm still talking about it.
What you'd like to see more of in the Vail Valley from a culinary standpoint: We have almost zero ethnic restaurants. If I'm craving Thai, Korean, dim sum, classic Tuscan, Moroccan -- anything, really -- I have to make it myself and serve it at dish. It's become a true passion for me to teach myself how to properly create the cuisines of the world, because if I don't cook them, I can't get them here. My tastebuds like to travel more than I do.
What you'd like to see less of in Colorado from a culinary standpoint: I'm a proud Colorado native, and I've watched a food scene that wasn't something I was particularly proud of evolve into a much more interesting and vibrant food scene run by passionate chefs who have their own visions. I'm so in love with what's happening in Boulder and Denver right now -- slowly but surely, they've grown into their own, and now we have dining experiences that can compete with any major food town. I believe people vote with their dollar, and watching the independent, creative and well-thought-out restaurant concepts flourish while the lesser-quality joints don't make it shows that people agree with me. If there's anything I'd like to see less of, it's complacency. I sometimes feel like chefs rest on their laurels -- but that seems to be changing.
Current Denver culinary genius: Alex Seidel at Fruition. I've always thought that he was an incredibly talented chef, all the way back to when I knew him while he was working at Sweet Basil in Vail. I'm in love with the fact that he's made farm-to-table a reality, from raising his own animals to making his own cheese to what he's going to do in the future.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? The opportunity to open dish with my own vision, and all the weekends, blood, sweat, tears and money that my family and friends put into helping it become a reality. That gift outweighs any KitchenAid equipment. I'll owe my family for the rest of my life for all the hours they spent helping dish become a reality.
One book that every chef should read: Culinary Artistry and The Food Bible. Since I don't often cook from recipes, the ingredient lists in these books help guide me when I need a little inspiration. It's like having a posse of brilliant chefs at your beck and call, and there are plenty of ideas on flavor pairings.
What show would you pitch to the Food Network, and what would it be about? I actually believe that I'm a natural for television, and I'd be really happy to have my own show. That would certainly be a nice progression in my career, but if I told you about my brilliant ideas, someone could just snatch them up, so for now, I'll keep them to myself.
You're making a pizza. What's on it? It's got to be thin -- paper-thin -- with a whisper of tomato sauce, a thin smattering of cheese, an egg in the center, maybe a few thin slices of fresh porcini mushrooms, and prosciutto crudo draped on top when it's out of the oven. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
You're at the market. What do you buy two of? Nothing. My dog, Bella, and I are minimalists.
Weirdest customer request: A tasting menu for a strict vegan, who wanted bacon.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: I'll try anything at least once. Many "strange" items have passed through my lips -- brains, all the offal and bugs. I draw the line at anything that has poop on it.
If you could cook for one famous chef, dead or alive, who would it be? I don't care if everyone else says it: Julia -- driven, inherently cheerful Julia. She completely changed her life at 35, felt sexy and confident in her own skin, and was so passionate about flavors and the soul of delicious French cooking. She loved to teach and coach in a non-patronizing way, pioneered what we now call the "celebrity chef," was a spy, trusted her intuition, and blazed the pathway for ladies to saunter into the kitchen and run the show.
Favorite celebrity chef: Hands-down, Liken. She's my very best friend on the planet and she works tirelessly to promote the whole Vail Valley and its food scene. She walks the walk when it comes to local and sustainable food and drink, makes delicious food, shares my vision, is more mechanical -- and can fix more things -- than most men I know, and plays a kick-ass guitar on Rock Band. I could go on forever, but everyone should have a friendship like this at least once in their lifetime. I'm grateful she has my back.
Celebrity chef who should shut up: Look, if there's a chef who connects with someone -- anyone -- out there and really gets them to think about how they fuel their bodies in a positive way, then I'm all for it. I believe that something really magical happens over a dinner table. If celebrity chefs are what make food sexy again, and they encourage our country to actually dine out and treat our tastebuds, then I support it. Lots of chefs bag on Rachael Ray. That's fine, but I bet you can't count the number of families who have had one more fresh dinner at home instead of fast food because she makes it seem manageable. That's a victory, in my eyes.
Are chefs artists, craftsmen or both? Both -- and to those, I'll add: budgeters, volunteers, dishwashers, repairwomen, psychics, schedulers, event planners, nutritionists, scientists, motivational speakers, inspectors...and on and on.
Favorite knife? A Porsche chef's knife that I received as a gift when I was a student at CSU. I've had it for years and years.
Favorite music to cook by: I'm a sucker for the '80s, but I listen to a whole spectrum of music. The few hours I have alone, before the line chefs arrive, I'm on a singer-songwriter, Cake, the Fray and Lady Gaga kick. My team likes trance, which I'm okay with, but if there were any country or death metal playing, my food would taste worse, because I'd be so sad from having to listen to it.
Hardest lesson you've learned: It seems so sexy to be a chef, because food TV has done a great job of making one of the hardest, most physical jobs in the world look like a cakewalk. The hardest challenge has mostly been to not get complacent or let anything let me down. Any small-restaurant owner will tell you these last few years have been tough on the little guys. I return every day to my kitchen in the hopes that I'll make more people happy with my food -- and that resilience is something I'm really proud of.
What's next for you? My TV show, of course -- just as soon as they figure out they want me. I have my fingers in a few different pots. I'm working on creating a line of amazing jarred products and multi-use local goods that can go with anything -- fish, cheese, bruschetta, you name it. I'd like to have another kitchen someday, but for now, dish is great and I love the mountains. That said, I always say never refuse an opportunity to grow. The options are endless.
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