Round two with Jagdish Singh, exec chef of India's Castle: expansion into downtown Denver
9555 East Arapahoe Road, Greenwood Village
This is part two of my interview with Jagdish Singh, exec chef of India's Castle; part one of our interview ran yesterday.
Favorite Denver/Boulder restaurant other than your own: Tuk Tuk. What I love about this place is its sesame chicken -- I've had sesame chicken at countless places, but their sesame sauce is so delicious that I usually have to sit for a second and appreciate the taste and the quality of the food before I engulf my meal.
Most memorable meal you've ever had: Last year when I went to India to visit my family. It was the first time I'd gone back home after ten years of being abroad. My sister planned a big family dinner -- she's a great cook -- and we all ate together in the old dining room where we used to eat when we were kids. It brought back so many childhood memories and the valuable times that I spent with my mother and father, who are both no more.
Favorite childhood food memory: Sitting in the kitchen with my mom and watching her make some of the tastiest food I've ever had in my life.
Favorite cheap eat in Denver: Anthony's Pizza. I love pizza, and Anthony's does a pretty good job in keeping their pizza consistent at all of their locations. Then again, I like pizza from just about anywhere. There is a new place that just opened up on Arapahoe called Jerome's Pizza; I need to check that place out.
If you could change one thing about the Denver dining scene, what would it be? I believe Denver has a wonderful variety of places to eat -- places that are off the beaten path that don't get nearly as much exposure as they should. I think if we focused a little more on those places, it would really impact everyone in a positive manner.
Favorite junk food: Salted peanuts, but I guess those are healthy.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? A lemon-juice squeezer. I've always used my hand to squeeze lemons, but my partner recently purchased a lemon squeezer, and it's pretty cool. They'll squeeze the crap out of a lemon until it's just a peel -- it's very efficient.
What was the last cookbook you bought, and what recipes are you cooking from it? The last cookbook I bought is Khana Khazana: Celebration of Indian Cookery, by Sanjeev Kapoor, a chef I really admire for his valuable knowledge about Indian cookery. I love making his mulayam murgh sheek, which in English means chicken mince kebabs.
Weirdest customer request: People who ask for their dessert before their appetizer. It happens all the time.
Weirdest thing you've ever put in your mouth: A worm, from a tequila bottle. It didn't taste like anything, but I felt like I was on that Fear Factor show.
Best recipe tip for a home cook: In Indian cooking, simplicity is the key to great-tasting food. If you pick up a good cookbook and you get the hang of Indian cooking, you'll realize that the most essential ingredients are easy to work with. The natural pastes of fresh ingredients and the natural blend of spices are the key to tasty meals.
What's your biggest pet peeve? Disorganization and a messy kitchen. Along with using the freshest of ingredients, we've got to keep our cooking area as clean and as organized as possible. The only exception for not having an organized kitchen is when it's rush hour.
What do you enjoy most about your craft? Cooking is definitely an art to me, especially with Indian food, because of the variety of spices. What I love the most is a perfect blend of spice, whether it's for a tandoori marinade or for a curry sauce. I like it when I get it just the way I want it to taste, and when I'm confident about what I'm serving, I know that I'll put a smile on someone's face -- and there's no feeling that can match that for a chef.
If you could cook in another chef's kitchen, whose would it be? I'd love to cook with Sanjeev Kapoor. The things I could learn from him would leave me so satisfied...there are very few things I want beyond this experience. I've read his biography, and it mentions that during the very beginning phase of his career he never expected to be a chef -- but he was absolutely meant to be one. I consider my life story to be very similar to his, so I'm motivated by his success and knowledge.
Most humbling moment as a chef: A customer was so pleased with my food that she asked permission to come into the kitchen, shook my hand, hugged me and told me that this was the best meal she'd ever had, despite travelling and eating all over India and the U.K. It gave me a moment to pause and realize that I have the ability to really put a smile on a guest's face, or provide an experience that makes their day better. She also introduced me to her family -- I felt like a celebrity. It's pretty cool when something that happens.
Biggest moment of euphoria in the kitchen: There was a time when I felt like I could improve the chicken tikka masala, and after multiple experiments and multiple letdowns, I finally had that aha! moment when it finally tasted the way I wanted it to taste.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: Being successful in this business and being liked by our guests. On Yelp, we're rated four out of five stars, which means that I'm pleasing a lot of people. We've been open for eight years, and the customers who helped us get there are still our regular customers today. We've seen many restaurants open and close around the area, so we feel blessed that we've been able to survive the recession, and we continue to look forward to an even more successful and brighter future.
What's one thing that people would be surprised to know about you? I love pro wrestling. I know it's fake, but I still find it to be so entertaining -- all the weird drama and funny schemes they come up with give me a real good laugh. I also love watching football and basketball, and I've enjoyed this football season so much with Peyton Manning at quarterback that I considered watching football over wrestling, but then the Broncos screwed up against the Ravens, so I'm going to stick with wrestling.
Last meal before you die: Chicken tikka masala with garlic naan, along with a veggie supreme pizza, somewhere on a beach with an umbrella over my head and an ice-cold Coke in my hand. Perfect.
What's in the pipeline? We'd really like to expand to a second location, and we really want to tap into the downtown market. I think that we have the talent and the experience to make this vision a reality. How soon that might be, we're not sure, but it's definitely on our minds to expand thanks to the overwhelming positive response we have received from our loyal customers.
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