Cafe Society

Chef and Tell: Paul Reilly of Encore

"Ever since I saw Grover waiting tables on Sesame Street, I knew I wanted to work in restaurants," says Paul Reilly. And he didn't waste much time following in Grover's footsteps, considering that he got his first taste of restaurant life while washing dishes in a German joint at the age of fourteen.

Reilly, now the kitchen magician at Encore, the regional American food temple (and home of the best fries on the planet) in the Lowenstein complex, sharpened his knives at several restaurants in the Hudson Valley before moving to Colorado in 1995, where he put in time at Dandelion, a Kevin Taylor restaurant, as well as 221 Oak and Allred's in Telluride. He eventually headed back to New York to attend the French Culinary Institute and then continued to hone his craft in noted Big Apple kitchens, including Danal, a French-Mediterranean restaurant that was awarded two stars from then-New York Times restaurant critic Bill Grimes.

In 2004, Reilly moved back to Denver, where he opened Mirepoix (now Second Home Kitchen and Bar) with Bryan Moscatello, then did a stint as executive chef at Mona's before taking a sous chef job at Black Pearl. From there, he moved to sibling restaurant Encore, where he was promoted to executive chef following the recent departure of Sean Huggard. "Being a chef has been the best damn experience of my life," says Reilly, who also freely admits that he can't live without coffee, despises hard-boiled eggs (but loves them scrambled or over easy), doesn't understand Denver's obsession with green chile, and wonders when it became necessary for restaurants to stock baby slings.

Six words to describe your food: Simple riffs on the American kitchen.

Ten words to describe you: Loud, infectious, impatient, raconteur, debonair, imaginative, husband, father, son and chef.

Favorite ingredient: Lemon. For years, I've taught cooks under me that salt breaths life into food, but lemon is the alarm clock that wakes food up and brings it around to its full potential. Every time I'm stumped on a dish, I add a drop of fresh-squeezed lemon and it comes to life.