Round two with Tom Coohill, exec chef/owner of Coohills
This is part two of my interview with Tom Coohill, exec chef/owner of Coohills. Part one of my chat with Coohill appeared in this space yesterday.
Favorite restaurant in America: Hangawi in New York City has the most interesting vegetarian food I've seen. I still can't figure out how they work their tofu. Hangawi stands out the most in my mind for their creative side.
Favorite Denver/Boulder restaurant(s) other than your own: The Kitchen in Boulder, ChoLon and Euclid Hall are just a few. I really appreciate food that's done properly, and I like to go to places that do different things than I do here.
Last restaurant you visited: ChoLon, which does a great job, and it's refreshing to eat Lon's food.
Which chef in Denver/Boulder do you most respect? Cade Nagy, the owner of Catering by Design, does amazing food. Catered food normally isn't very creative, but Cade has the ability to create amazing displays, and the quality of his food is excellent, which is hard to accomplish when you're dealing with so much volume, but Cade does it with grace.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: A really good Jewish deli. I love a great corned beef and rye sandwich. Yummy.
What you'd like to see less of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: Fewer Tex-Mex and steakhouses. There are already so many good ones here, so please stop making my decisions all the more difficult.
Favorite music to cook by: Ritmo y Alegra has a good Brazilian beat, although I normally listen to classic rock when I'm not cooking. Rush is my all-time favorite band.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: Focus on the food you're preparing, work clean and don't talk too much. Cooks need to stay on task, because it's way too hard to make things the right way when you're distracted. I like to have fun, but you've got to focus on what you're doing. I always joke with the chefs that if they make too many mistakes then they're going to have to go to an American Culinary Foundation meeting and dress like an old-school chef.
Biggest kitchen disaster: We did apple tarts that were made with salt instead of sugar -- thirty of them, to be exact. We had to throw them all out. Not only that, but we had all of an hour to make new ones for dinner service. It was a fiasco.
What's never in your kitchen? Beef, chicken or any bases for soup and sauces. They're used all too often in kitchens and totally take away from the freshness of what you're cooking. You can get the same effect by using natural reductions.
What's always in your kitchen? Pork back fat and cream. I make a lot of pâtés and sausages that require the use of pork back fat, although I've found that it's hard to find thick fresh back fat, which I prefer. I also use cream a good deal, but mostly for binding purposes and as a flavoring agent.
What do you cook at home that you never cook at the restaurant? Mexican food and salsas are some of my favorite dishes to concoct. I don't cook the same type of food at home as I do at the restaurant because I want something different when I'm at home relaxing. I also enjoy cooking pastas and pierogis. My wife is a vegetarian, so I also dabble in all sorts of vegetarian dishes for us to enjoy.
Favorite food from your childhood: Hands down, my mother's stuffed cabbage. My mother is such a good cook, and she makes everything from scratch, which makes it that much more special to me. When all my friend's parents were making processed -food dinners, my mother was roasting and braising meats and using fresh vegetables. It's more like traditional Polish comfort food.
Favorite dish on your menu: I don't really have a favorite dish, but the blue-crab flan is interesting. It's my take on a crabcake, but it's lighter and more flavorful. Most crabcake preparations have mayonnaise and breadcrumbs in them, and that makes them cakey and heavy, which no one likes.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? A Hobart mixer from my mother. It's a very useful, versatile piece of equipment for the kitchen. I use it for bread, whipped cream, grinding and doughs.
What's your favorite knife? I love my ten-inch French knife because it's so versatile.
What are your favorite wines and/or beers? Fuller ESB is my favorite beer. I really like the taste profile; it's not too bitter or too hoppy. The flavor balance is perfect for my tastebuds. My favorite wines are Batard montrachet and Puligny montrachet. They're from the Cote de Beaune region and are the premier vineyard out of the four Grand Cru vineyards. They've got to be the truest chardonnay I've ever sipped.
One book that every chef should read: Ma Gastronomie, by Fernand Point, is a must-have book for any chef. It's written from a historical standpoint that helps chefs to understand the birthplace of modern French cooking. History is important to me...I even have the original marjolaine recipe from Fernand Point, which we'll be making soon.
Best culinary tip for a home cook: Rather than serving meat straight off the grill, let it rest for five minutes or so before you eat it. If the meat is too hot and not rested, it'll become tough, and when it's too hot, you won't be able to taste it.
You're making a pizza. What's on it? Seasonal vegetables like roasted winter squash and spinach from Grant Family Farms. I find most pizzas over-seasoned for my taste.
Guiltiest food pleasure: I could eat fruit tarts all day. The combination of short or sugar dough and fresh fruit is one of my favorites.
If you could cook in another chef's kitchen, whose would it be? Grant Achatz at Alinea, because his passion for molecular cooking interests me. Molecular cooking has been done for many years, but the progress that's been made over the past few years astounds me. The difference now is that scientists have studied the relationship and have brought it to a whole other level.
Favorite celebrity chef: Mario Batali, because his cooking style is so authentic. I've eaten at his restaurants in New York, and his food is always good; the consistency and menu selections are superb, and so is the service.
Celebrity chef who should shut up: I don't watch enough Food Network TV to choose one.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: I was honored to be invited to cook as a guest chef at the James Beard House in New York, and I got the Chef of the Year: Chefs in America award, which is another accomplishment that I'm quite proud of.
If you weren't a chef, what would you be? A stereo-speaker designer -- it's my hobby. I even keep a pair of JBL speakers back in the office at the restaurant to mess around with in my downtime.
What's one thing about you or your restaurant that people would be surprised to know? We have a chandelier made out of four thirty-year-old cabernet vines from Simi Landslide Vineyards. It's a pretty dramatic piece, and we get a great deal of comments when people come in.
Last meal before you die: Veal sweetbreads with crepe mushrooms. It's a combination that works really well.
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