Round two with Eric Rivera, exec chef of Cafe|Bar
295 South Pennsylvania Street
This is part two of my interview with Eric Rivera exec chef of Cafe|Bar. Part one of my chat with Rivera ran yesterday.
Favorite restaurant in America: Bouchon, in Napa Valley. The food and service were just spot-on perfect. We were there for lunch, and everything was amazing, and the service was just so respectful.
Favorite Denver/Boulder restaurant(s) other than your own: Table 6 is consistently good, and Scott Parker's flavor combinations are phenomenal, plus the servers there really take care of industry people. You can tell that it's a great team environment. El Camino is my favorite bar; their tacos are amazing, and I also love Sushi Sasa. We sit at the sushi bar, and the cooks really make it a point to be personable.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: More tapas bars. I like to eat a little of a lot, and my wife and I like to try more than one item whenever we go out to dinner.
Last restaurant you visited? Root Down. I had the mussels and the gnocchi and a lot of their mixed drinks, which are always interesting. I loved it. But they need to replace the light bulbs when they go out. That's a small complaint, though.
What you'd like to see less of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: Gourmet burger joints. It's just out of control. There are so many other things I'd like to see restaurants specialize in - things like more charcuterie shops. Hell, even just salads.
Which chef in Denver do you most respect? Eric Uffelman, the exec chef of Marlowe's. I worked with him for three years, and he really helped me become a better chef by giving me so many of the tools I've needed to get to where I am now. He taught me how to structure a kitchen, how to run it professionally, how to teach the staff to be professional, and to just hold really high standards. He lays low, but he's an amazing person and chef.
Are you affected by reviews at all? What's your opinion on food writers and social review sites like Yelp, OpenTable and Urbanspoon? Sure, they all affect me, and they help me to get better, whether they're good or bad reviews. Restaurants have off nights, though, and there are a lot of variables in service, so I believe that people need to try a place twice before they review it -- or at least update their bad review if they come back and have a great experience.
Biggest compliment you've ever received: A high-five from a guest. It was awesome. I walked out to the patio on the third day we were open to see how a table was enjoying their food, and a woman sitting down held out her hand, told me how awesome the food was and then gave me a high-five.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? A mandoline. I use it all the time, and so does my wife. It's one of these things that I'd never buy for myself, because I'm so used to using a knife.
What are your favorite wines and/or beers? For beers, I like Left Hand Milk Stout, because it's so smooth, nutty and delicious, and when it comes to wine, I like the red Gypsy Dancer and the white St. Hallett Poacher's Blend, which I've only had a few times, but it was so good that I can't get it out of my head.
What do you cook at home that you never cook at the restaurant? Egg drop ramen. I love Asian food, and my wife and I make it a lot at home, but when we want a good, quick meal, we take a square package of ramen noodles - yes, those ramen noodles - and drop scrambled eggs and green onions in there. It's awesome.
Favorite music to cook by: Blind Pilots. Since opening Cafe|Bar, they've kept me calm.
What's your favorite knife? My Scimitar is great for cutting meat and fish.
One book that every chef should read: Setting the Table, by Danny Meyer. It's a book that really reiterates the need for chefs to get out of the kitchen and into the dining room, and it stresses the importance of interacting with the customers and how our communication is so integral to running a restaurant.
You're making a pizza. What's on it? Mushrooms, goat cheese, shallots and mizuna lettuce.
Guiltiest food pleasure: Velveeta shells and cheese. I know, I know, I know, but I just can't help myself.
Best culinary tip for a home cook: Read the recipe all the way through the first time before you actually start cooking, and be as organized as you can. And keep trying more challenging recipes, because you'll be surprised at how quickly you'll grow and get better.
If you could cook in another chef's kitchen, whose would it be? Thomas Keller's French Laundry. I imagine he has everything in his kitchen that I could ever possibly want or need, and he's got a garden right across the street that he uses for all of his restaurants. To have that kind of produce, herbs and bounty right at my hands - that would be awesome. When I had dinner there, the chefs were all in the garden with their wooden baskets filling them with all sorts of things to get ready for dinner service. It was amazing.
Favorite celebrity chef: Anthony Bourdain is unpretentious and real, and I don't think he's out there seeking fame like some Food Network stars who've moved so far away from who they once were.
Celebrity chef who should shut up: I can't stand Bobby Flay's obsession with winning against normal people who cook on TV. He made a girl cry - and for that and many other reasons, I despise him. A lot of celebrity chefs don't stay true to who they are, and while Bobby Flay isn't the only one, I hate him the most.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: Opening Cafe|Bar. It's the kind of restaurant that's exactly what I was looking for, and I'm so glad to be a part of it. It's a risk, but when you succeed by taking a risk, it's so much more meaningful. My goal is to make it the go-to spot for the Wash Park neighborhood.
If you weren't a chef, what would you be? I'd be a potter, because I love to work with my hands. And just like cooking, pottery takes a lot of hard work, patience and sometimes finesse.
Hardest lesson you've learned, and how you've changed because of it: To not let work overtake who I am. Living life outside of work helps to keep me balanced. I love my job, but when I let it overtake me, then my home life, friendships and relationships become very strained. I know now that I need balance in my life, and I thank everyone who's stuck with me through the trials and tribulations.
What's next for you? A winter menu change, and then hopefully some traveling so I can experience different cultures and their cuisines. I have a major passion for traveling and wish I'd started seeing the world earlier in my life. And then, who knows? Maybe a second location. Wink-wink.
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