Round two with Matt Lewis, exec chef of Bones
Part one of my interview with Matt Lewis, exec chef of Bones, ran yesterday. This is part two of our conversation.
Favorite restaurant in America: My experience at Bouchon was amazing, even more so because the chef de cuisine came out and talked to our table. I'll never forget the olive oil-poached potatoes and housemade sausage. They were some of the most fantastic things I've ever eaten -- so simple, but prepared so perfectly.
Favorite cheap place to eat in Denver/Boulder: Tacos y Pupusas. Oh, my God, it's great -- and it's open super-late; they decide when they want to close. It's small, and there are only three choices with three meat options, but it's all so delicious. You have to have some balls to walk in there at 3 a.m. by yourself, but it's worth it if you want real Mexican food.
If you only had 24 hours in Denver/Boulder, where would you eat? I'd start with breakfast at Snooze and order eggs Benedict and drink a Greyhound or a Bloody Mary. I really like what they do there. I'd then have lunch at Tom's Home Cookin', because the fried chicken is just so good -- so much better than what you can get elsewhere. I love the fact that they serve fresh food every day, making only enough to get through lunch -- and that the menu can be different every day. I'd then have dinner at Mizuna, because it's just a really special dining experience.
Most memorable meal you've ever had: Victoria & Albert's in Orlando, Florida. We had thirteen courses paired with wine. My favorite dish was abalone with a corn foam that was awesome, and we started the night with Dom Pérignon and ended the night with Louis XIII. Our group had the restaurant to ourselves.
Favorite childhood food memory: Sitting on the kitchen counter watching my mom make lasagna. My mom tells me that when I was young, I always asked if I could sit on the counter to watch her cook, and I always ended up getting my hands in whatever it was she was doing. I've apparently always loved cooking.
Favorite junk food: Sour Patch Kids.
What's always in your refrigerator: Tecate, Coors Light or PBR, sriracha sauce, stone-ground mustard, a pound of butter and a couple of other random things.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've ever been given? My chef buddy Dan Grunewald -- he's the chef at Carmine's on Penn -- gave me a CRKT pocketknife, and I frankly think anyone who works in a kitchen should have a pocketknife in close range. I always have a pocketknife on me, and it makes my life so much easier when it comes to accepting deliveries and cutting boxes down. I use it all the time.
What are your favorite wines and or beers? I'm a sucker for rosé right now, and we have a rosé by the glass on our menu called El Coto that I love. When it comes to beer, anything cheap does the trick for me, especially an ice-cold 24-ounce PBR.
Weirdest customer request: When I was cooking at North, there was a gentleman who asked for pistachio ice cream and we didn't have it. Unfortunately, the fact that we didn't have it didn't satisfy him, so he repeated his request and said, "Well, I'd still like some pistachio ice cream." We went to the store and got some. "Yes is the answer; what was the question?" is still my service philosophy.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: Believe it or not, salmon eyeballs. I was working at a sushi restaurant in Greenwood Village and there was a cook who was making fish head soup...with salmon, and we dared each other to eat the eyes. That's just one more reason why I don't like that fish.
Best recipe advice for a home cook: Making a quality tomato sauce from scratch is quick and delicious -- and it really elevates a pasta dish. I even have a great recipe. All you need is a can of whole tomatoes, fresh garlic, olive oil, tomato paste, onions, carrots, celery, basil and thyme. Cut your onions, carrots and celery and sauté them until they're caramelized. Add sliced garlic halfway through the process so it doesn't burn and to eliminate bitterness. Add tomato paste and cook for a few minutes, then deglaze the pan with red wine and reduce by half, add crushed whole tomatoes and juice, and then add the thyme. Simmer it for an hour, assess the consistency, add some water if you need to, and then purée the sauce. Season it with salt and pepper and fold in the fresh basil. Voilà!
One piece of advice you'd give to culinary-school grads: Work hard and carry on, because now that you're in the real world, you need to behave accordingly. Cooking isn't easy. The hours are hard, it's hot, it's dangerous and it's frustrating. Being a chef isn't just about cooking food; you have to be able to manage people, control costs and play Mr. Fix It. And remember, every day is a new day, and whatever happened the day before is water under the bridge. Control the chaos rather than allowing it to control you.
Biggest compliment you've ever received: I had a couple tell me that I made the best meal they'd ever had in Denver. Working in an open kitchen allows me to interact with the people I'm serving, and getting a compliment directly from guests is really nice.
What are your biggest pet peeves? Not being ready for service, and cooks who are just there for the paycheck. I work hard, and if I'm working with people who don't have pride in what they're doing, the food isn't as good. Successful kitchens require a dedicated crew. I'm happy when my guests are happy. When people aren't cooking to satisfy their guests, it shows in their food.
Culinary heroes: My mom. She's always supported my decision to become a chef. I know there are some parents who aren't very supportive of their kids working in the hospitality industry, and I'm thankful that my mom wasn't one of them.
If you could cook in another chef's kitchen, whose would it be? Hunter Pritchett at Luca d'Italia, because he always has something really interesting happening in his kitchen.
Favorite celebrity chef: Anthony Bourdain. I love his "I don't care what people think" attitude.
Celebrity chef who needs a muzzle: Guy Fieri. I don't think he's very talented, and I question his palate, plus he's loud and obnoxious, and I think chefs should be humble. Unfortunately, he isn't very humble.
One book that every chef should read: Letters to a Young Chef, by Daniel Boulud. It does a thorough job of discussing the realities of kitchen life.
What's one thing people would be surprised to know about you? I do Pilates twice a week at Luca d'Italia with other chefs and Bonanno Concepts employees. The dining room turns into a Pilates studio for an hour, and our instructor, Marcia Polas, is a very cruel person during that hour, but she's really helping me to improve my posture. My back doesn't hurt anymore after standing for hours in the kitchen.
Most humbling moment as a chef: I had absolutely no idea what the hell was going on during my first executive job at Lo Coastal in Greenwood Village. That experience taught me a lot, because I had to learn, in my own way, how to do things, and also how not to do things.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: What I've been able to do at Bones in the last three months. It's become a more efficient restaurant, and I'd like to think I'm adding some exciting dishes to the menu.
What do you have in the pipeline? Lots of menu changes at Bones -- at least one a week.
Last meal before you die: Pho in Vietnam.
What should I ask the next chef I interview? What's the difference between jam and jelly? Every good chef should know.
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