Round two with Jeremy Kittelson, exec chef of Ambria
1201 16th Street
This is part two of my chef and tell interview with Jeremy Kittleson, exec chef of Ambria. Part one of our chat ran yesterday.
Favorite Denver/Boulder restaurant(s) other than your own: I really like going to Euclid Hall. Anywhere I can go and eat awesome food, have great beer, great service and listen to rap music is going to be a favorite of mine. They do a really great job there, and it helps that I'm such a huge Jay-Z fan.
Favorite cheap eat: I'm a sucker for tacos. I could eat them all day, every day. They're delicious, not to mention a complete meal. I'm still looking for my favorite taco place here, but so far, I really like El Taco Veloz on Federal. I love Star Kitchen, too, and I had a really great dinner there recently.
Best thing about cooking in Denver: I love cooking in a great food town that's so close to the outdoors, which is really the reason I came to Colorado in the first place. I wanted to live and make a life in a place where I could enjoy the outdoors and get away from the city.
Last restaurant you visited: Euclid Hall.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: I'm relatively new to the city and haven't had the chance to get out that much, but pizza is one of my favorite foods -- and I haven't seen too many pizza places out there that I've been really impressed with. That said, I can't wait to try Pizzeria Locale, in Boulder. I hear it's amazing.
What you'd like to see less of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: Menus that are all over the place and trying to be all things to all people. I want to know what I can expect going into a restaurant, and I want to see a real flow to a menu. Other than that, I've been very impressed with the chefs and restaurants in Denver.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: Respect the food, respect each other and work clean. I'm a clean freak, and I'm also a real stickler for consolidating products -- like chicken stock -- down to smaller containers. It shows a lack of respect and complete laziness when cooks don't do that. And no chile pepper or mushroom chef pants are allowed in my kitchen, although I admit that there was a time when I thought they were cool. Oh...and all of the towels have to be perfectly stacked and folded into quarters -- and you always have to show the clean side.
What's never in your kitchen? I guess I can never say never, but I certainly don't have many pre-made foods in my kitchen. I try and make as much as I possibly can in-house, and I take a lot of pride in doing so.
What's always in your kitchen? Music. I can't even imagine going all day without listening to great music. It really helps set the tone for service and keeps people focused. I've also been turned on to so much great music just by working in kitchens. I love hip-hop, but everyone brings in their own music, which is good, because then we're all equally represented.
Favorite dish on your menu: Our carrot salad. When I conceived of the dish, I wasn't really sure how it would work out or be received by our diners; I only knew that it would be unique. It actually turned out really well and has gotten a great response. Plus, Lori Midson asked that I never take it off our menu.
Biggest menu bomb: Clam pizza. I've always heard about these epic clam pizzas that people wait hours to have on the East Coast. Unfortunately, I've tried to make it several times with no success. I guess I have to eat one to really know what it's supposed to be like.
Favorite childhood food memory: I used to love to eat freshly cut rhubarb dipped in sugar. My grandmother used to cut it and then serve it with a bowl of sugar. It was a really special treat.
One book that every chef should read: There are two, really: On Food and Cooking, by Harold McGee, and Culinary Artistry, by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. Both have been essential in my career, and I use them constantly. These are the two books I always recommend to aspiring chefs and home cooks. Understanding ingredients and food pairings is paramount to creating great food. Creativity, on the other hand, will only carry you so far.
Best recipe tip for a home cook: Do your prep in advance and stay organized. Home cooks don't know the meaning of "mise en place," but a lot of food would be better if home cooks did as much as they could in advance and were more organized. I've seen a lot of home cooking, and it looks like a train wreck in their kitchen.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? When I left Blackbird, they gave me a Misono knife. It was really special, and I felt appreciated for all that I'd done there. Besides that, it was just a really great knife.
What's your biggest pet peeve? I have a few, but repeating the same things over and over again is the worst. It's just such a waste of time and counterproductive. So much of success is based on following instructions and repeating those actions. I'm pretty sure it's the reason I've lost my hair.
If you could cook for one famous chef, dead or alive, who would it be? Jean-Georges. He gave me the most amazing meal, and I'd like the chance to give something back to him. I imagine he'd also have a lot of hot models surrounding him.
Favorite celebrity chef: I really like Anthony Bourdain. I think what he's doing for the culinary world is great and we should all thank him. He's turned people on to food in a way that nobody else has. So many people outside the industry tell me how much they love his shows and how it inspires them. His work is making food lovers of the masses. He may also have the coolest job of all time.
Celebrity chef who needs a muzzle: Gordon Ramsay needs to tone it down, although it'll never happen because it makes for such great reality TV. Nonetheless, that kind of trash talk gives people the wrong impression about our industry. I do, however, have a tremendous respect for what he has accomplished in his career.
Culinary heroes: Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Paul Kahan, Michel Bras, Fergus Henderson, Alice Waters and Mario Batali. Love them all.
Most humbling moment as a chef: Right this moment -- and opening Ambria. There's just so much more going on when you open your own restaurant. It's way more than just cooking delicious food. People depend on you to pay their bills and make a living. That's a whole other level of responsibility.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: People that I've worked with in the past still want to work with me, and I really try and help them further their careers. I currently have seven amazing people working alongside me at Ambria, all of whom I've worked with before. I'm not sure if they're loyal, crazy or just gluttons for punishment.
What's your dream restaurant? Grant Achatz already has it, and it's called Next. The restaurant switches concepts every three months and cooks from different time periods and places in history -- and even the future. I think it's one of the most brilliant restaurants I've ever heard about, and a place where you would never become complacent. I can't wait to go there the next time I'm in Chicago.
What's next for you? I hope to do a smaller concept, like a barbecue joint. I think it would be so fun to do something like that -- and profitable, too.
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