Round two with Simon Purvis, exec chef of EDGE at the Four Seasons
Favorite restaurant in America: I had an exceptional meal in L.A. at José Andrés's restaurant, Bazaar. It was packed, so the ambience was electric, I bumped into a former colleague, the food was good, the decor was stylish, and everything amounted to a memorable experience.
Favorite Denver/Boulder restaurant(s) other than your own: I like the Kitchen and the Kitchen [Next Door] in Boulder. The restaurant is very clean, well-priced, and you get what you pay for.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: More great ethnic restaurants with a native of the ethnic cuisine at the helm of the kitchen cooking dishes that he or she grew up with and has a passion to share with everyone else.
What you'd like to see less of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: I'd like to see less fried food or mediocre foods coming out of restaurant kitchens.
Which chef in Denver do you most respect? During our pre-opening, we called upon Kevin Taylor on many occasions. We had two of our restaurant chefs prep and do their tastings in his restaurant, and then serve their meals in his restaurant. And then, our small-wares shipment was delayed and we had a media event that we needed to do, so he lent us equipment and a few other things. Kevin was always so polite and gracious, and we're really grateful to have such a professional so close to us. Not all chefs are like this, so thanks, Kevin.
How do you handle customer complaints -- and what should customers do when they're peeved about a dish? I try to rectify everything right there and then -- and that means re-cooking a dish the way that the guest has requested, even if we think we did it right the first time. Customers have expectations that we need to live up to, but when we don't please you, let us know while you're still here, in the restaurant, so we can try to get it right. We all like our food a certain way, and if you have certain preferences, please let us know about it when you order so that we can deliver what you want -- and not what we think you want.
What are your thoughts on social review sites, like Yelp and Opentable, and Urbanspoon? It's something we all have to deal with. I'm from a different era, so when I have an issue, I tend to deal with it right away and keep any issues to myself. It's hard not to take negative reviews personally -- and if you don't, then your heart isn't in it. As for positive reviews, I tell my team and myself that we're only as good as the next meal we serve. It doesn't matter what we served yesterday; it's about what we serve next.
Biggest compliment you've ever received: I was working at the Four Seasons hotel in Berlin -- which was a great experience, but at the time, it consumed my soul. Nonetheless, I must have made the right impression, because I was asked to go to Bali and open the new resort that was being built in Sayan; I had just turned 28, and it was a compliment to the person I was and the chef I had become.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? When I lived in Bali, I became friends with a Canadian jeweler called John Hardy. I did a photo shoot with him at his house for an Australian magazine, and we did some great food shots. He made me a set of pretty amazing silver buttons for my chef's jacket that are safely tucked away.
One book that every chef should read: While I have a very large book collection, they become dated very quickly in this day and age, but any aspiring young chef must know the basics, so Wayne Gisslen's Professional Cooking will come in handy. I used that book when we assisted in Central Wyoming College's cooking classes. My favorite things to read are two culinary magazines: Donna Hay, from Australia, and Dish, from New Zealand, both of which are always a full season ahead of us, so they turn us on to trends and ideas as we go into our next season, plus both countries have extraordinary food cultures.
Best culinary tip for a home cook: If you're having people over for dinner, do as much as you can before your guests arrive, and don't attempt to do too many items that you've never done before. Your guests are coming to spend time with you, so your kitchen should be the gathering point. Before you come to our restaurant, we've already spent hours doing prep, and for the most part, when you arrive here, we're simply finishing dishes and cooking proteins. When I do cooking classes, I try to teach the attendees what they can do in advance, and many of them are shocked at just how much I would have done in advance if you were coming to my home for dinner. Most important, always have a plan B.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: Two things. Over the years, I've had some very talented young cooks come through my kitchen, and I've invested personal time in them, even pushing them to their breaking point on some occasions, but a few of them are now exec chefs and sous chefs and doing very well. The second is the night that I almost did a James Beard dinner. We had everything prepared, the team had flown to New York, we had planned, prepped and were ready to execute the dinner when the New York blackout happened on August 14, 2004. Instead of doing the James Beard dinner, we ended up feeding the hospital across the street all the food that we'd prepared, and it ended up being a great success and probably more rewarding than doing the actual James Beard dinner. I have photos of us in candlelight with patients and doctors lined up for dinner. I think we fed close to 300 people that night, buffet style.
Favorite celebrity chef: I don't invest too much time in TV, so I don't follow the celebrity chefs too much. That said, I was part of the Jackson Hole wine festival a few years ago, and our hotel hosted some celebrity chefs, whose support teams worked very hard. Gordon Ramsay, at least on the English version of Kitchen Nightmares, does a decent job of explaining what makes a restaurant successful, and while I understand why he shouts so much, that's just not my nature.
Celebrity chef who should shut up: What's the difference between God and a chef? God knows he's not a chef. I don't like the rude chefs; I've seen the way that they talk to and treat others, and I have just one thing to say: Come back to Earth, please.
If you could cook in another chef's kitchen, whose would it be? Martin Wishart, a Scottish chef who I worked with at the Caledonian Hotel in Edinburgh in 1987. We worked very well together and had lots of laughs, and he's done very well for himself, opening two excellent restaurants as well as a cooking school. It would be nice to reconnect with someone from the past.
Hardest lesson you've learned: You can't make every customer and employee happy, and while I still try, at the end of the day, I know that it's just not going to happen. I can rationalize things now better than when I was younger, but I was told recently that I take some things way too personally -- and I do, but that's just me.
What's next for you? I still have lots of work to do in my current role at EDGE, and the Four Seasons has lots of projects on the horizon, so I see myself trying to develop our company's culinary talents for the future.
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