This is part two of Lori Midson's interview with Bob Wiltshire, exec chef of Morton's LoDo. To read part one of that interview, click here.
Proudest moment as a chef: I was hired as a line cook at Jay's Bistro in Fort Collins, and like a lot of chefs, I always dreamed about getting my first executive-chef position, and within a year of working at Jay's, I was promoted to day sous chef and then to executive chef. When this is what you've dreamed about for the majority of your life, it's a really big deal, not to mention a little intimidating.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: I'm one of the most laid-back guys you'll ever meet, and the kitchen staff knows what to do, so I don't have to make a lot of rules. Essentially, you have to have fun and love what you do, have a great attitude and understand that it's about the guest getting the best food that we can possibly give to them. I do have one rule for myself: Whenever I leave early, I pull the mats in the kitchen. It's a nice gesture, so the other guys don't have to do it.
Favorite restaurant in America: Frank Fats in Sacramento, California. I asked for a recommendation, the server suggested the flounder, and it was one of the best meals I've ever had. It was fresh, simple and delicate.
Most embarrassing moment in the kitchen: I do dumb things every day, and I often embarrass myself on purpose, just to keep everyone entertained. I talk about last night's episode of Star Trek a lot, so all the kitchen staff thinks I'm a nerd. I might have to say I'm sorry, but I really don't get embarrassed. That said, I was once part of a kitchen crew in Boston that was making 120 gallons of clam chowder for a "chowder fest," shucking and chopping all the clams and hand-prepping all of the vegetables. We had to cook the chowder outdoors on propane burners on a busy Saturday night because there wasn't enough room in the little kitchen we worked in. Unfortunately, the chowder wasn't cooled correctly, so the next morning we came in to see buckets of chowder bubbling over and completely spoiled. Instead of going to the chowder fest with 120 gallons, we were only able to salvage the eight gallons that had been cooled properly. We had to dump all the bad chowder in the woods.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? Hobo pie irons for camping. It's two iron griddles attached to two long sticks with a latch, and you press two slices of bread together smeared with a little butter and some meat and cheese, and then put the iron over the fire until you get a toasty, melty pie.
Favorite dish to cook at home: Deviled eggs, which are so simple and a great source of protein. I enjoy making them with different spices and ingredients. They make me happy.
Favorite dish on your menu: Our Colorado lamb chops or the bone-in rib-eye. There's nothing better than the great mellowness of Colorado lamb, and the bone-in rib-eye just has so much flavor.
If you could put any dish on your menu, even though it might not sell, what would it be? Veal. I know this for a fact, because we put it on the menu and it didn't sell.
Favorite cookbooks: The Internet is an amazing resource. I'm able to find more on the Internet than I could ever want/need/imagine to find in any one cookbook. Rarely do I look in a cookbook. I make recipes from the gut, using the ingredients I have at my fingertips.
What show would you pitch to the Food Network? The Chef Bachelor. I'd bring in a bunch of female servers and bartenders, see how much they know about cooking, restaurants and the kitchen, and give them a sprig of rosemary or a wad of fresh parsley if I wanted them to stay. If they get kicked off, they're designated to the dish pit for the night. The smart, employed, off-the-wall funny girls that would keep me on my toes would stay; the boring girls wouldn't.
Current Denver culinary genius: Alec Schuler at Arugula in Boulder. He's the only chef I've ever called to let him know how great my dinner was and what a great time I had.
You're making a pizza. What's on it? Pizza is one of my least favorite foods -- it's so overrated -- but when I eat it, I like fresh tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, some chèvre, a little Parmesan, a little mozzarella, red-chile flakes and maybe some pancetta. No marinara sauce, and definitely no green bell peppers.
You're eating a burrito. What's in it? Pork, green chile, guacamole, fresh veggies and hot sauce.
You're at the market. What do you buy two of? Bananas or any other fruit.
Best culinary tip for a home cook: Keep the ingredients, techniques and flavors simple, and don't be afraid to try something new.
If you could cook for one famous person, dead or alive, who would it be? I would love to cook for Lance Armstrong, because he inspires me in a personal way. I'm a big bike rider, and he has so much passion for riding his bike, plus he's overcome so many obstacles in his life. I'd make him a big ol' steak and big ol' baked potato.
Favorite Denver restaurant(s) other than your own: Taste of Thailand. They have a great variety of Asian food, which I really enjoy, especially their Sriracha beef and their appetizer platter.
Favorite celebrity chef: Alton Brown. I love the science behind his cooking, and he seems to be having a good time while he's doing it.
Celebrity chef who should shut up: Michael Chiarello. He seems so nice on TV, but he was a guest chef at a Massachusetts restaurant I worked in, and he was a total ass.
What's your favorite knife? My pocket knife. When I'm camping, for example, I use it to cut steaks and sharpen marshmallow spears; it does everything.