Round two with Roam chef Tony Clement: the fortune cookie, Justin Brunson and slaughtering animals
This is part two of my interview with Tony Clement, exec chef of Roam. Part two of our chat ran yesterday.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: Markets that actually sell local ingredients. I've got nothing but props for the Boulder Farmers' Market, Denver Urban Homesteaders Market and the farmers who attend, but it's appalling to me when I see boxes of California and Mexican produce behind the stands at certain markets that I won't mention. The organizers of these markets, as well as the vendors, are obviously trying to take advantage of us and should be ashamed.
What you'd like to see less of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: Crappy Mexican restaurants. We have a strong Mexican population in Denver and some great places to get great, authentic food, so how do all these crappy, margarita-slinging jokes on Mexican culture do so well?
Biggest compliment you've ever received: My biggest compliment may have come as a total coincidence from an inanimate object. When I was in culinary school in Philadelphia, I opened a fortune cookie that read, "You have the ability to become a master chef." I'm not a superstitious person, but it's still in my wallet to this day, and it's certainly motivated me.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? When I was growing up, I liked to cook recipes out of my mom's Joy of Cooking. A few years ago, she had it rebound and gave it to me.
What do you cook at home that you never cook at the restaurant? For many years, the way I cooked at home and work was very different. At Roam, however, I'm focusing on simple food that utilizes organic and local ingredients, which is exactly how I cook at home. The only real difference is that we cook in our fireplace most of the time at home. We live in a little, rustic, old-school A-frame cabin with a small electric heat stove, so I have quite the cast-iron collection for cooking things in the fireplace.
What are your favorite wines and/or beers? I'm much more of a beer fan than a wine fan, and I'm loving the American beer "revolution." There are way too many good beers being made today to choose a favorite.
Favorite food from your childhood: I'm from an Italian-American family, and just like any East Coast Italian-American, I would argue to the grave that my mom and grandma make the best meatballs and sauce in the world.
Favorite dish on your menu: Our fresh farmer's cheese. I've wanted to get involved with cheese-making for a while, and making fresh cheddar curds at least once a week at the restaurant is a great way to practice. I only wish the health department would let us do more.
One book that every chef should read: Any cookbook that predates 1950. Forget liquid nitrogen and meat glue; let's just get back to cooking.
You're making a pizza. What's on it? Tomatoes and basil from the garden and fresh, stretched mozzarella baked in my wood stove.
Guiltiest food pleasure: I don't really feel guilty about food. I weigh 140 pounds, so eating foie every day for a few weeks might actually be a good thing for me.
Best culinary tip for a home cook: Buy some cast iron and some hard wood and cook in your fireplace or outside.
If you could cook in another chef's kitchen, whose would it be? My grandfather's kitchen. He died before I was born, but he ran a restaurant for many years.
Favorite restaurant in America: New York Noodle Town. There are a lot of places in Manhattan where you can get a meal for around $5, but New York Noodle Town is by far the best. They have the best Peking duck and baby pig I've had to date -- and it's so cheap. I ate there at least once a week while I lived in the city.
Favorite Denver/Boulder restaurant(s) other than your own: Seoul Korean BBQ. I just love good, authentic Asian food.
Which chef in Denver/Boulder do you most respect? Justin Brunson. He's always been a really good friend to me, he's opened a lot of career doors, and he's always had my back. Enough said.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: Learning to slaughter animals. I don't mean to sound morbid, but I truly believe that anyone who's going to eat meat should kill an animal at least once -- and I don't mean shoot it with a rifle from a hundred yards away; I mean look the beast in the eye. You'll have a lot more respect for what you eat.
Favorite celebrity chef: Julia Child, because she actually spent her time on TV teaching people how to cook.
Celebrity chef who should shut up: Gordon Ramsay. I understand that celebrity chefs get paid to run their mouths rather than cook, but TV executives could make it a little less blatant when it comes to Ramsay.
Are you affected by reviews at all? What's your opinion on food writers and social review sites like Yelp, OpenTable and Urbanspoon? I truly want people to enjoy the food I cook, but I've learned that there are always going to be people who you just can't please. I fully appreciate criticism -- it's the best way to improve -- but it hurts me to see how hateful some people can be. I just don't get it when someone writes a negative review for the public to see, and words it as though you've personally offended them or ruined their life by not meeting their expectations. It's just food and beverage, people. Life goes on. There will always be people who want to be a food critic for a day and rant on the Internet. That said, I've always found professional food writers to be kindred spirits. I gotta love anyone who's crazy enough to make food a career, and I respect anyone smart enough to stay out of the kitchen.
Last restaurant you visited: Cuisine of Himalaya in Evergreen. We go there at least once a week. I like the lamb korma and the tandoori chicken.
What's your favorite knife? I have an antique meat cleaver that's so big it looks more like an executioner's ax. I guess it's just good to know you can take a head off if you need to.
If you weren't a chef, what would you be? Who knows? Maybe a crackhead. Cooking was a way for me to start thinking seriously about a career and stop being a delinquent. It's pretty much all I've done since I was thirteen.
What's one thing about you or your restaurant that people would be surprised to know? We're using organic vegetables in our stocks. A lot of chefs probably think it sounds stupid, but we're committed to quality ingredients down to the smallest details.
Hardest lesson you've learned: To have a wife and be in the restaurant business, you have to find a woman who's already in the restaurant business. Aside from that, it's tough to balance a career and make a living in a small town, which means I have to drive down to a big town like Denver, even though I have a huge love for the outdoors, which is why I moved to Evergreen and live on 200 acres of mountain forest. But the drive is worth it, because we have such a great culinary scene.
What's next for you? I'm excited for spring and gardening season. I'm going to start tomato plants in just a couple weeks, and we have plans for a rooftop setup at Roam. And I'm going to try and beat last year's total of ninety tomato plants in our garden at home.
Last meal before you die: I grew up pretty close to Buffalo, New York, and have always been a big chicken-wing fanatic. Anchor Bar, which claims to be the home of the original buffalo wing, is pretty good, but for a last meal, I'd have to go with La Nova Pizzeria in East Buff, which has the best wings in the world: hot, meaty, crispy, and a great sauce balance of spicy and vinegary.