This is part one of Lori Midson's interview with Dylan Moore, exec chef of Deluxe, Delite and Deluxe Burger, To read part two of that interview, check this space tomorrow.
"This," proclaims Dylan Moore, stretching out his arms, "is my own little Chipotle." We're camped out at Deluxe Burger, chatting about Moore's rapid rise from a fruit squeezer and buser at Lucile's Creole Cafe, which is owned by his mother, to sharing the line with iconic star chef Jeremiah Tower at Stars in San Francisco (a restaurant where Mario Batali also did a stint), to his current role as chef/owner of Deluxe, Delite, a new Deluxe street-food truck called the Little Orange Rocket, and Deluxe Burger.
"The burger idea was swirling around in my head for months, and I was looking for something to be my Chipotle, so I proposed the idea to Jill Warner, a very good friend of mine who owns Mod Livin' next door, and two days later we were shaking hands," recalls Moore, who co-owns Deluxe Burger with Warner. "It feels kind of weird to say this, but I think that burgers are my future, and this is a concept that I want to multiply." Starting, he says, with a second location on Broadway, the stretch of asphalt where Deluxe and Delite reside.
Moore leans back in his chair and shakes his head. "You want to know what the weirdest thing about that wish is?" he asks. "I sold my soul for burgers once before, and it ended up being a horrible experience that ended in a bad breakup." Moore had been working in a San Francisco restaurant that he likens to a "Gordon Ramsay kitchen nightmare" before moving to Denver in 1994 and taking the exec chef position at the Firehouse Bar and Grill -- in a building that today houses the Rio -- working alongside Mark Berzins, now the managing partner of Little Pub Co. "It was an ill-conceived restaurant, and by the end, it was a pretty ugly scene with lots of blame to go around," remembers Moore, who stepped away from the restaurant scene altogether for nearly a decade while he collected "junk" -- a passion that's superseded only by cooking -- and opened a vintage store on Broadway he named Decade. "I was used up," he remembers, "and after my experience at the Firehouse, I decided, then and there, that my next restaurant would be my own deal, but first I had to find the right space" -- which he did, eventually, two doors down from Decade.
He christened it Deluxe. "My nickname has always been 'Big D,' which is why all of my restaurants begin with that letter," Moore explains. He spent six months virtually alone in the space, hiding behind the papered windows. "After I opened, I almost didn't want anyone to come in, because I'd spent so much time in there by myself, building everything from scratch," he says. But people did come, and in 2008, Moore opened Delite, a convivial bar next door, which he followed with Deluxe Burger in February and, just last month, the food truck. "I love having new projects," admits Moore. "I get antsy if I'm too complacent or things get too comfy. I like chaos, and projects motivate me."
During our conversation, Moore expands on his plans for the future, confesses to an obsession with fish sauce, hates on strawberries and admits to fucking up the food of two very prominent Denver restaurateurs.
Six words to describe your food: Clean, fresh, colorful, unpretentious, tasty and fun.
Ten words to describe you: Crazy, ambitious, silly, creative, artistic, determined, clean, outgoing, collector and motivated.
Favorite ingredient: I've got this obsession with fish sauce. I'll put it in the strangest things, like tortilla soup, or in a corn and tomato ragu, instead of salt; it's even the base for my ceviche. Fish sauce adds incredible depth to food; it just rounds things out. You don't even know it's there, but it just grabs me, and I use it everywhere, at all of my restaurants, including in the food I serve from the truck. People tease me about it, but I love it.
Best recent food find: Beef tongue. The first time I had it was just recently at El Taco de México, and now I can't get enough of it. It's got a melty, livery texture that I really dig.
Most overrated ingredient: Strawberries. I swear, every time I interview a new chef, he wants to go straight for the strawberries. Some guy did a chicken fettuccine with a strawberry balsamic reduction -- and that's just wrong. A spinach and strawberry vinaigrette is nasty, too. I don't know, maybe it's a country club thing, but strawberries belong in cocktails and desserts, and they're great for breakfast, but they don't belong anywhere else.
Most underrated ingredient: Fresh herbs. I'm anti dry herbs all the way. You won't find dry herbs in any of my restaurants. I use them fresh in marinades and as a baster, and I use an herb oil with fresh rosemary, thyme, parsley, garlic and extra virgin olive oil on all the burger buns at Deluxe Burger and on my focaccia at Deluxe. I don't see a ton of fresh herbs on a lot of menus, and that mystifies me, because they really pump up a dish. And, honestly? I don't get the kind of cooking philosophy that follows the "Let the ingredients speak for themselves" rule. Food needs seasoning, even it's just salt and pepper.
Favorite local ingredient and where you get it: Fresh corn from Munson Farms in Boulder. I grew up on corn, and I could kill four or five ears, even as a seven-year-old. The corn from Munson is sweet and crisp, and you can eat it raw.
One food you detest: I love foie gras and duck liver, but I hate chicken liver. There's something about the smell that really turns me off, and it reminds me of when I was a kid and my mom forced me to eat it.
One food you can't live without: Tacos. I need my Mexi fix every day. My favorite place is El Taco de México, even though I hate the women who work there. I've gone there once a week -- sometimes twice a week -- for twenty years, and they've never once smiled at me. They don't give a shit, because they know that fifty more gringos are right behind me. They're the Taco Nazis, but I keep going back because the tacos are just so incredibly good.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: It's pretty simple: Be clean and be nice. Weird rules? I can't stand a thing on the floor; it drives me out of my mind. Maybe I'm a floor-watcher, but when fifty people have walked by the fry on the floor, I'm like, pick it up! I also hate dirty towels on the line, and if you're using a towel, it needs to be nicely folded next to your cutting board.
Biggest kitchen disaster: I have plenty of kitchen disasters, but the one that really stands out is the time that we fucked up Josh and Jen Wolkon's -- the owners of Vesta Dipping Grill and Steuben's -- snapper Veracruz dish at least four times. I don't remember all the details, but there were different problems each time we cooked it -- different variations of undercooking and overcooking if I recall. Josh is a buddy and fellow restaurateur, and we just kept screwing it up. I was mortified.
What's never in your kitchen? A microwave. It would be so embarrassing to have to post a sign on the front door that says "microwave in use." The only thing a microwave is good for is defrosting, and we don't really freeze anything at any of the restaurants.
What's always in your kitchen? We always have fresh, housemade pasta on the menu. I love my noodles, and I don't understand why more people don't make their own pastas. They're easy, cheap and fucking delicious.
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What you'd like to see more of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: I'm really excited about the food-truck movement in Denver, and I can't wait to see what our local chefs can off pull with their trucks. I'd love to see a Frank Bonanno noodle truck, or a Sean Yontz taco truck or Interstate Kitchen and Bar truck hawking little lap dogs.
What you'd like to see less of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: On the Border-type crap Mexican restaurants. Tex-Mex is not real Mexican food; it's bullshit Mexican food, what with all the cheese goo.
Hardest lesson you've learned: Like a lot of chefs, I sort of thought that I'd open up my first restaurant and people would show up and I'd feed them -- and that would be that. But there's so, so much more that goes along with opening and running a restaurant, like the city coming after me a year later to tell me that I had to pay taxes on my chairs and stoves. I've learned that there's no love for a small-business owner -- and no guide to opening a restaurant. How the hell are we supposed to know that we need a candle-burning permit? I've learned to roll with the punches, even though, as a small-business owner, I get twisted and wrung out along the way, all while trying to put people to work and give money back to the system.