Round two with Jeremy Thomas, exec chef of Le Grand Bistro & Oyster Bar
1512 Curtis Street
This is part two of my interview with Jeremy Thomas, chef of Le Grand Bistro & Oyster Bar; part one of our conversation ran yesterday.
What's never in your kitchen? Green peppers. When I worked at Sacre Bleu, the chef, Don, once asked me: "Do you know what green peppers are good for? The dumpster." I fully agree with that sentiment: They're bitter and don't lend themselves to other flavors very well.
What's always in your kitchen? Sarcasm. I'm always sarcastic, and most of the cooks are, too, but they know when it's time to get serious. It keeps it fun.
Favorite dish on your menu: Our Coquilles St. Jacques, with sea scallops, cauliflower purée, soaked golden raisins, fried capers, mini-croutons, house-cured bacon and brown butter, is pretty awesome. The flavors are harmonious, and the textures contrast with each other, which really makes it pop.
Favorite Denver/Boulder restaurant(s) other than your own: I love the concept and the style of food of Punch Bowl, plus it's my sister restaurant, so, yeah, I'm biased; I'm an alumnus of the Brown Palace, so I like all of the restaurants there, plus it's just such a beautiful hotel; the owners at Willow Creek, a restaurant in Evergreen, are good friends, the views are awesome, and I grew up in the Evergreen area; chef Scott Parker at Table 6 totally rules, and we both learned from the same chef and the staff is like family; Alex Seidel's food at Fruition is so amazingly good, even when he's not there; Lon at ChoLon has way more skill than I -- and while I hate to say that, he's my boy; I love Frasca for the hospitality -- the front of the house is the best I've ever experienced; and Marty, the chef de cuisine at Linger, is a good friend and a killer chef.
Favorite cheap eat in Denver: It's not really cheap, but the value is great at the Crawling Crab on Federal. You wear a bib and rubber gloves, and they steam the shellfish in bags covered with sauce in varying degrees of heat and spice and then you pile up empty shells right on the table. The food is usually hot enough to make your nose run, but you can't really wipe it off, because your hands and gloves are covered in hot sauce -- and so is your drink. In other words, the place is super-fun.
If you could change one thing about the Denver dining scene, what would it be? Give Denver chefs more national recognition. I feel like Denver is an up-and-coming food city, but we still don't get the proper credit, despite the fact that we have some great restaurants that deserve to be in the national spotlight. I'd like to see some Michelin stars in our city.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? David Wiehler, who honed his craft at Le Bec-Fin and worked at many world-class restaurants like Le Bernardin and An American Place, gave me my foundation in the kitchen and many rules to live by. I'll owe that guy forever.
What was the last cookbook you bought, and what recipes are you cooking from it? My boss and homeboy Sergio Romero got me Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery for Christmas, and we're applying some of those techniques to our charcuterie program. I'm also reading a book called Near a Thousand Tables: A History of Food, which isn't a cookbook, but it has been very enlightening and educational. I recommend it to all chefs.
Best nugget of advice for a culinary-school graduate: There are so many things to tell them. Don't expect too much money; be willing to put in some long hours, because this is a lifestyle, not a job; and my favorite piece of advice is keep your eyes open and your mouth shut.
Craziest night in the kitchen: New Year's Eve 2011 at Willow Creek in Evergreen. We went with handwritten tickets, and the first half of the night was a disaster: We couldn't read the tickets, we had no abbreviations standardized, and the flow of customers coming in was pretty thick. But the second half went really smoothly. Last New Year's Eve at Le Grand was also pretty hairy. We did a three-course dinner for the first seating, four courses for the second seating, and five courses for the last seating, and by the time we got to the last seating, it was getting pretty difficult, but we soldiered on.
Biggest mistake a chef can make on the line: Not tasting your food. As the chef, you're the last line of defense before the customers put the food you make in their mouths. Taste everything.
Best recipe tip for a home cook: Use your instinct and common sense. If you're second-guessing what you're doing, it's likely you shouldn't do it. They say your first instinct is correct 90 percent of the time. I agree with that.
Which chef has most inspired you? Jacques Pépin is a total stud. He had cooking shows before anyone else did, he's the dean of the French Culinary Institute, and he's the foremost authority on French cuisine.
If you could have dinner with three chefs, dead or alive, whom would you choose? Paul Bocuse, because he's one of the greatest chefs ever; Jean-Georges Vongerichten, because his food is so cool, and he knows a thing or two about good restaurants; and Daniel Boulud, because he's a super-nice guy and an amazing chef.
If you could cook in another chef's kitchen, whose would it be? Grant Achatz has the coolest equipment ever, and I'd love to learn some tricks from him. I also enjoy watching him on YouTube. Check out "Chef Grant Makes a Mess on the Table."
Describe the biggest challenges facing today's chefs: The competition. Thanks to all the cooking shows that are now on every channel, everyone wants to be a chef. The culinary schools are pumping graduates out, and it's making salaries lower and the competition stiffer.
Most humbling moment as a chef: Losing any culinary event or competition. I hate to lose; I'm super-competitive.
Biggest moment of euphoria in the kitchen: The first time I ate caviar, and every time since then. It's salty, sweet, has texture, and you feel the eggs bursting in your mouth. It's a magical food.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: In 2008, the Brown Palace participated in the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, which was so much fun. We were cooking in our hotel room on click burners at 2 a.m. with the food-and-beverage director and the general manager...until security busted us. It was hilarious. I highly recommend that chefs go to Aspen for that event. And before I was a chef, I did a stage at Restaurant Daniel, which I'm still really proud of, plus it was one of the coolest kitchens I've ever seen.
What's one thing that people would be surprised to know about you? I love to skateboard. I know it seems a bit childish at my age, but I still love to get out there and ride.
Last meal before you die: Snow crab legs with drawn butter; a baked potato with cheese, bacon, and green onions; and a salad with Thousand Island dressing.
What's always lurking in your refrigerator? Sriracha. My wife is Korean, so it's something we always have around the house.
When you have a day off away from the kitchen, how do you spend your time? In the summer I like to fly-fish, work in the garden and hunt for porcini mushrooms when they're in season, and in the winter I like to snowboard.
What's in the pipeline? We're working on a spring menu and a Valentine's Day menu, Denver Restaurant Week, and making Le Grand better and better every day. And hopefully, we'll get to go to Aspen for the Classic. And then, who knows? Maybe a cookbook, or a cooking show. The sky's the limit. But none of this would be possible without our stellar kitchen staff. The cooks and my sous chef are the key ingredient to our success, day in and day out.
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