Round two with Kevin Morrison, exec chef-owner of Pinche Taqueria
1514 York Street
Part one of my interview with Kevin Morrison, exec chef-owner of Pinche Taqueria, ran yesterday; this is part two of our chat.
What do you enjoy most about your craft? It's always changing, so it fits my personality. I get bored easily, so I'm fortunate in that I have a great release and playground to come to every day. I do everything here but jump behind the bar; that's the one area where my crew won't let me go.
What's your biggest pet peeve? Dirty bathroom mirrors and a dirty front door. Really, you're too busy to clean those? I always tell the crew to pretend that they're having their in-laws over for the first time. Do you really want their first impression to be a fingerprinted front door?
Weirdest customer request: A guy ordered a margarita and wanted it super-spicy, so we put a whole serrano chile in there. It still wasn't hot enough, so we made a fresh habanero paste and poured that in there. He was sweating like crazy, but his wife said that he wouldn't be happy until be cried. He didn't cry.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: A pickled scorpion at Carmine's on Penn. No, it wasn't on the menu. The manager at the time brought in a bottle of tequila with a little scorpion in it, so I poured it in my mouth and crunched it a few times. We were drunk -- it seemed like a fun idea at the time.
Most memorable meal you've ever had: Dinner at Coyote Cafe in New Mexico. What impressed me the most was the service; they were ten minutes late seating us, but the way they handled the delay was absolutely amazing. It wasn't over the top or gushy, but they treated us with a great deal of respect -- and they had a way of making us feel special.
Favorite childhood food memory: Eating lunch with my family on our boat in Michigan, watching my mom and grandma make holiday rolls, and my dad making hot chocolate over the campfire on family camping trips.
Favorite junk food: Popeye's. I love the biscuits -- I always get two -- and their fried chicken is perfectly cooked.
Favorite food city in America: It comes down to Chicago or Portland, but I'm going with Chicago, which is so diverse in its culinary offerings, plus I got my first sous-chef job there.
Favorite Denver/Boulder restaurant(s) other than your own: Tom's Home Cookin', Parisi and Elway's Cherry Creek. Tom's personifies comfort food at its best, and owners Tom and Steve are super-fun to talk to about restaurants; Parisi is just a great concept that's simple and rustic -- I love their style; and Elway's is just awesome, whether you're grazing or going all out. No matter what, they nail it.
Favorite cheap eats in Denver: Columbine Steakhouse and Tom's Burger Haven. Some things you can't put into words. Just go.
If you could change one thing about the Denver dining scene, what would it be? I love the dining scene here, but I'd love to have better restaurants on the 16th Street Mall -- restaurants that better represent what eating in Denver is all about. The mall is a tourist destination, and yet most of the restaurants are chains rather than restaurants that really speak to who we are as a city. As a chef, I love the soul of independent spots.
Favorite dish on your menu: I have two: the queso tequila, one of our appetizers, with sautéed onions, tomatoes and Jack cheese that's then flamed off with tequila; I also love our carnitas.
Biggest menu bomb: Our opening brunch menu. I didn't design the menu around the kitchen, and that led to a nightmare. We initially had a lot of entree-sized plates -- there were some badass dishes on there -- but the kitchen wasn't designed to handle that, which we didn't figure out until after the fact. After a month, I just said screw it and went back to the taco menu. Thank God.
Best recipe tip for a home cook: Buy the highest-quality products you can, and ask the person you're buying them from how to prepare the item. Then don't stress it, and have fun: It's just food.
Favorite celebrity chef: Danny Meyer and Mario Batali. I appreciate how Batali manages his brand. He's developed an infrastructure that grows with him, and that's a great foundation. I also appreciate his style of food, and while I've never met him, I imagine he's a cool guy. And I also like Danny Meyer because, well, he ate at Pinche Tacos. He was in here in March, and he scarfed down four tacos really quick, and then he was out the door.
Which chef has most inspired you? Paul LoDuca, a chef I worked with in Chicago. He taught me not to complicate a dish -- that three or four great ingredients are all you need. Paul was passionate about teaching us where the food came from and the history of a dish or cuisine. He was also great at the balancing act of being a chef-owner.
If you could cook in another chef's kitchen, whose would it be? Aaron Sanchez. I like his style, and I've heard that's he's a very cool guy.
Celebrity chef who needs a muzzle: Gordon Ramsay. Somebody should really kick that dude's ass. Why all the yelling? Does he think he's motivating those people, or does he do it just to make himself feel better? This ain't the 1980s, Gordon; chefs don't yell or throw things anymore. They're professionals.
Most humbling moment as a chef: I was working in a Chicago restaurant, and Rick Bayless came in for dinner. I'd prepared his meal and then realized my Band-Aid had fallen off, and I couldn't find it, so I was totally freaking out. I went out to check on his table and tried to eyeball his dish -- nothing. I came back in the kitchen, and a line cook had found it on the floor. Can you imagine...if?
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: Pinche was recently named by Bon Appétit magazine as one of the Top 50 New Restaurants in the country. That was huge! When we opened, my goal was to be considered one of the top spots in Denver; that's what drove me to build such a great team.
Last meal before you die: My mom's chicken tetrazzini and garlic bread. It's so good.
What question should I ask the next chef I interview? Have you ever thought about leaving the industry? If so, why didn't you?
If you hadn't become a chef, what would you be doing right now? I'd be sailing somewhere -- just set the sails and go. I've always been fascinated with that lifestyle.
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