Round two with Josh Monopoli, chef de cuisine of Black Cat & Bramble & Hare
Part one of my interview with Josh Monopoli, chef de cuisine of Black Cat and Bramble & Hare, ran yesterday; this is part two.
Favorite restaurant in America: Next, in Chicago. I haven't eaten there yet, and the concept isn't really feasible for, well, just about anybody. But the idea of changing not only the menu, but also the complete theme/decor/ambience of an entire restaurant every few months, with perfectly executed food and service, is really cool.
Favorite cheap eat in Denver/Boulder: Biker Jim's in Denver for his rattlesnake hot dogs and tahini-roasted cauliflower. That shit's bangin'. Snarf's is also my favorite sandwich shop in Boulder. Good, good stuff.
Most memorable meal you've ever had: My going-away dinner at Shoya Izakaya in Atlanta resulted in the best, most amazing marinated garlic I've ever had, and chicken-heart skewers that were...oh, my God. I don't even know how to describe those. And then there was the monkfish liver...oh, my God. Either it was that good, or I had a lot of sake that night. Most likely it was both.
If you only had 24 hours in Denver/Boulder, where would you eat? I'd start with a Monte Cristo for breakfast at Tangerine, then I'd go to Centro for some chipotle and goat cheese avocado salsa -- goddamn, that shit is bangin' -- and a couple of tacos, and then I'd shoot up to Lyons Fork for some truffled French fries (it's the only time I'll ever eat anything truffled, because they're just so good). I'd head back to Boulder and stop in at Riff's, because I love that shit, then I'd hop on the bus down to Denver, because at this point I'm not going to be able to drive, and stop in at Euclid Hall for some cheese curds, bone marrow and crispy pig's ears, while washing it all down with a coffee-and-stout cocktail. And then I'd walk into Linger for, well, a little bit of everything. And it's not for food, but before heading back to Boulder, I'd stop in at the 1UP to play some Mortal Kombat and drink a couple of pints. To end the day, I'd go back to Black Cat and Bramble & Hare to eat a bowl of pudding and a chocolate marquis and drink some Leopold Bros. amaro.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: Dietary restrictions. I worked in Atlanta for seven years, where people ate everything, but in the past year in Boulder, I've had more gluten-free/dairy-free (butter's okay, though)/no nightshade/allium allergy (come on, an onion allergy? Just say you don't want bad breath) requests than in those seven years combined. And pork is not a red meat...I'm just sayin'.
What you'd like to see less of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: Copycats. You see a lot of the same styles and dishes going on in a lot of different places -- some of which are within close proximity of each other. I'm not saying I create completely original dishes left and right, but at least I'm trying.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: No shooting water guns at fellow cooks, dishwashers or bartenders, no burning people with kitchen torches, and definitely no pig-head masks. Wait, did you mean what not to do?
What's never in your kitchen? Chef pants with weird designs like flying pigs, urban camouflage or neon green. What the hell is that stuff? I'm by no means a complete traditionalist, but some of these pants just look ridiculous.
What's always in your kitchen? My charcuterie recipe book, spoons, tweezers and sharp knives.
Biggest compliment you've ever received: Being told that I truly have a way with bone marrow. That brought a tear to my eye.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? Whole Beast Butchery, by Ryan Farr, took my butchery skills to another level. There are so many more ways to skin a cat than you would think.
What are your favorite wines and/or beers? My favorite beers are very hoppy, so I love IPAs and brown ales: Hopsecutioner, Maharaja, Ellie's Brown, Trogdor the Burninator and Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA. I also like some wines -- mostly weird ones. The sommelier at our restaurant tells me that I like macerated white wines, oxidative red wines and ripassos from northern Italy...whatever that means.
Favorite childhood food memory: Waking up on a Saturday morning, hitting the stairs, and smelling my dad's tomato sauce cooking. I'd sit down at the table and watch him ladle sauce into my bowl and give me a few pieces of bread to dip into it while he made fresh pasta and meatballs.
Favorite junk food: Hot dogs and buffalo wings. They just taste so good -- and don't even get me started on how good they are for you.
One book that every chef should read: I have a few: Ideas in Food: Great Recipes and Why They Work, by Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot; The Science of the Oven, by Hervé This; and On Food and Cooking, by Harold McGee. Anyone can cook out of a recipe book, but these books show you why things happen during different cooking phases with regard to time and temperature. Knowing the science of how and why foods act the way they do under certain circumstances will completely change the way you think about and cook food.
What's your best piece of advice to culinary-school grads? Work. Don't believe that you know everything now, because, well, you don't. That piece of paper isn't magical, and it'll only get you so far. Lose that feeling that peeling carrots is beyond you. Work hard, be humble, and never stop learning.
Best recipe tip for a home cook: Use fat, acid and herbs. Do you ever taste something after it's done cooking and say to yourself, "This is just missing something"? Give it a little more salt, a little bit of fat in the form of butter, oil, lard -- anything, really -- and a squeeze of lemon juice or a little vinegar. And finish it with some fresh herbs. Now taste it again.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: To date, it would be overseeing -- and cooking in -- the kitchens of both Black Cat and Bramble & Hare. Neither are huge restaurants, but there is so much to do for both, especially with Bramble & Hare being brand-new.
Culinary heroes: Thomas Keller, Grant Achatz, Michael Carlson, Sean Brock, whoever invented the pressure cooker, Japanese men who make awesome cutlery, Alice Waters, Marco Pierre White, Ferran Adrià, Escoffier, David Chang and Charlie Trotter...to name a few.
If you could cook in another chef's kitchen, whose would it be? Michael Carlson's at Schwa in Chicago. The chefs cook the meal and they're the service staff. It's always been a dream of mine to work somewhere that closes the gap between the cook and the guest.
Favorite celebrity chef: Jamie Oliver. Not really for his shows or his style of cooking on said shows, but more because of his mission to get people, especially children, good, fresh healthy food. I think everyone should watch his TED prize wish talk about teaching every child about food. That dude really stands for something, and he's using his celebrity status to make progress.
Celebrity chef who needs a muzzle: Rachael Ray. Seriously, have you heard her voice? Plus she makes dog food now, and the first ingredient is chicken meal.
What's one thing that people would be surprised to know about you? I really like to eat pork. I know, I know: Looking at any of my dishes, you almost wouldn't be able to tell. It's a subtle obsession.
What do you have in the pipeline? Here at the restaurants, a much-expanded in-house cheese and cured-meat program. Down the line? Open some restaurants back in my home town of Savannah, Georgia.
Last meal before you die: My grandmother's brazoles, my dad's spaghetti and meatballs, roasted bone marrow with toast and herbs, sweetbread po'boy, the big nasty (curious?), seared foie gras, head cheese and pickles, buffalo wings, beer, bourbon and cocktails, an H&F cheeseburger, beef heart seared medium-rare, barbecued pork shoulder, and mac and cheese -- and that's just for appetizers.
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