Round two with Patrik Landberg, exec chef of Charcoal
43 West Ninth Avenue
This is part two of my interview with Patrik Landberg, exec chef of Charcoal. Part one of our conversation ran in this space yesterday.
Best thing about cooking in Denver: We're on the cusp of being a bona fide food-centric city that's about more than just a few good restaurants; there are many restaurants that are verging on greatness. I feel like I'm cooking in a city that's just beginning to go from good to great, and it won't be long before we can compare ourselves to New York City, San Francisco and Chicago. We've had many guests in from Tokyo, London or New York who have given us great reviews for our food, atmosphere and service. Denver also has great local produce, not to mention a lot of great individuals who want to put Denver on the culinary map.
Favorite Denver/Boulder restaurant(s) other than your own: Sushi Den has the best, most consistent sushi in town, and it's close to my home.
Favorite cheap eat in Denver: Mustard's Last Stand. My kids love it.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: Small, individual, chef-owned restaurants that aren't uniformly perfect. Our restaurant is a culmination of many different ideas from around the world. The community table is more common in San Francisco; the wine wall is an idea from Asia; the open-kitchen concept came from Tokyo; the lighting is an inspiration from Paris; and the antique chandeliers above the chef's table, as well as the private dining room, were a conscious decision not to have everything new. We deliberately designed our restaurant so that it doesn't look like a chain, because we didn't want it to look perfect. Denver needs to continue to break away from big chain restaurants.
What you'd like to see less of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: Mediocre overpriced restaurants and fewer franchise-style restaurants. There are many people who like to go to franchises, but I wish people would try different kinds of cuisine and support more small local businesses.
Favorite restaurant in America: I still have many more places to go, but so far, my favorite is Saul, in Brooklyn, New York. The food is perfectly balanced and the presentations are great. Every time I've eaten there, I've always had something that makes me say "Wow." The service is unpretentious yet friendly and very attentive -- which isn't surprising, considering that the chef/owner worked with Eric Ripert at Le Bernardin for many years.
What are your favorite wines and/or beers? Just when I think I have a favorite, I discover a new one. Right now, a Ken Wright pinot noir is near the top of the list. Mer Soleil, an un-oaked Chardonnay, is also on my mind. As for beers, I like a cold, crisp ale. After a long, hot summer day, or a great day skiing on the mountain, there's nothing like sitting down to relax with a Fat Tire from New Belgium.
Most memorable meal: Eating cod fritters and drinking beer on the bay outside of Lisbon, Portugal, with my wife. I had just recovered from open-heart surgery and was re-realizing how wonderful the simple things in life are.
Favorite junk food: Gummi bears and a good, greasy cheeseburger that isn't fancy: just fresh ground chuck -- 80/20, at least -- a good slice of American cheese and a brioche bun.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: What constitutes weird? Once, when I was cooking in Stockholm, we had a staff Christmas dinner, and the owner took us all out to a restaurant that specialized in food from an island called Gotland. We were each greeted with our very own baked lamb head. It was actually really good, especially the cheeks.
Weirdest customer request: We're in the service business, so I always try to accommodate special requests, but sometimes I don't have time. A customer recently asked if we could take the striped bass dish, deconstruct it and make it into tapas bites. No! As much as I love Spanish tapas, I don't have time at 8 p.m. on a busy Saturday night to make that happen.
What's your biggest pet peeve? People who don't take their restaurant jobs seriously. I love to teach, but you need to pay attention; I'll show you once or twice how to do something, but then I expect you to know how to do it on your own. I'm also annoyed by people who are habitually late.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: Be professional and don't bring your personal problems into the restaurant. Be respectful of each other and of the products. I also have high expectations of all of my line cooks. I want them to take pride in their work and be proud of the restaurant, and I always want my line cooks to learn and elevate their food knowledge. Growth is very important in the restaurant industry. And if something isn't right, let me know and I'll show how we can fix it together. But respect goes both ways. I can't expect my staff to respect the restaurant and me if I don't respect them. After all, I can't run my kitchen without my staff. The restaurant isn't about me; it's about a team effort.
What's never in your kitchen? Disrespect, pre-prepared foods and people with a "whatever" attitude.
What's always in your kitchen? Me and my steam kettle full of stock and fresh herbs.
Biggest compliment you're ever received: After making a meal at my restaurant in Brooklyn, a couple asked me to come and cook for a birthday party at their home. It was a great experience, and they even invited me to eat with them and their friends.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? My Japanese chef knives and my KitchenAid.
One book that every chef should read: Larousse Gastronomique and the Food Lover's Companion. As a chef, you've got to know the basics, which both of these books cover. There's nothing better than reading through all my cookbooks during my downtime, but at work I like to search online, since I've got unlimited access to books, recipes and opinions.
Best recipe tip for a home cook: Don't be afraid of salt, but make sure that it's a high-quality salt. I prefer to finish my cooking with Maldon sea salt.
Favorite celebrity chef: Saul Bolton, the chef/owner of one of my favorite restaurants in the world. He has managed to surprise and impress me every time I've been there.
Celebrity chef who needs a muzzle: I think everyone has the right to say whatever they want. When I'm bored or disagree, I can always just turn the channel or read something else.
Culinary heroes: My father. He used to cook big meals every Sunday, and he's the person who made me want to learn how to cook.
If you could cook in another chef's kitchen, whose would it be? Saul Bolton, who owns Saul's in Brooklyn, New York. I had the best meal of my life there.
Most humbling moment as a chef: Giving my three-year-old daughter mussels, only to have her tell me that I used the wrong sauce. I usually make the sauce with white wine, garlic and thyme, but I put tomatoes in it...and apparently they weren't meant to be there. Given her age, it's amazing that she picked up on it.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: The opportunity to plan and open Charcoal. It was an eye-opening process that I was involved with from the ground up; I was able to design my own kitchen, put together the opening menu and hire the kitchen staff.
What's your dream restaurant? A self-sustaining restaurant with a farm and creamery. The location has yet to be decided.
Last meal before you die: Oysters on the half shell, cold beer, a crispy baguette and Västerbotten cheese. I hope I won't be eating this anytime soon.
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