This is part one of my interview with Beau Simmons, exec chef of Jonesy's EatBar. You can read part two of our chat tomorrow.
Beau Simmons stretches out in his garden, his face tickled by the leaves of his heirloom-tomato plants. He has 56 vegetable and herb plants sprouting in the back yard of Leigh Jones, the namesake and owner of Jonesy's EatBar, where Simmons is the executive chef. That's a job that's a long way from where his culinary career began. "I started washing blenders at a smoothie shop in Arvada when I was seventeen," recalls Simmons, "and I did a kickass job, so they promoted me to a manager position." He held that until the bagel shop next door wooed him away: "I was eighteen and they wanted to me to run it, plus they were giving me a thirty-cent raise. How could I refuse?"
He stuck around for a year before becoming the "dough boy" at a now-closed Old Chicago in Wheat Ridge, where he designed a dough dungeon, complete "with little rubber skeletons hanging from the ceiling." He played on the Hobart mixer, too, he recalls, "riding it like a mechanical bull." Between diversions, he opened three more Old Chicago stores, "teaching people to make dough the Old Chicago way."
But that wasn't Simmons's dream gig. "After flipping dough all fucking night, I wanted something different, and I was interested in working at a fine-dining restaurant," he says. He landed at Appaloosa Grill -- a mistake, he soon discovered: "The chef and I hated each other, and one night after prepping, cooking, cleaning and closing down the kitchen, I walked out the door, knowing that I'd never walk back in."
Over the next several years he worked in kitchens that were a vast improvement, including that of 240 Union, where he cooked alongside Matthew Franklin, now the exec chef/owner of Farro, an Italian restaurant in Centennial. "I remember asking him if I should go to culinary school, and he told me that I could take all the money that he was giving to me and give it to someone else, or that he could teach me what he knew and I could keep the money that he was giving to me, so I looked at him and said I'd take the bet," recollects Simmons, whose gamble paid off: He stayed at 240 Union for nearly five years, exiting, he says, "only because I wanted to be a sous chef and there wasn't much turnover there."
He wound up securing a sous position at Undici's, followed by a second one at Ocean, a dead-in-the-water restaurant in Cherry Creek that was overseen by Troy Guard, now chef/owner of TAG, TAG|RAW BAR and Madison Street. "He called me out of the blue and said he wanted to interview me, and I spit out his entire biography to him, which I think freaked him out a little bit," admits Simmons. But Guard gave him an opportunity nonetheless. "He told me that I had thirty days to prove that I was the best of four applicants for a sous-chef job, and two weeks into it, the pool had dwindled to two, and by the third week, I was the only one left," he recalls. Still, Guard made him work for it: "Troy's demanding, and he sent me home five of the first seven nights I worked with him, but he always met me halfway -- and more -- and it was awesome working with him."
When Guard left Ocean, Simmons wasn't far behind. "I knew it was crumbling, so I thought it was in my best interest to get out," he recalls. He connected again with Franklin at Farro, where he stayed until his stepfather passed away. After taking some time off, he joined the crew at Jonesy's as a line cook under Brendon Doyle, now the exec chef of City, O' City. "That guy taught me so much about vegan and vegetarian food, and about using different fats -- coconut milk, olive oil. I was really sad to see him go," admits Simmons, who stepped into Doyle's shoes after Jones let him go in the fall of 2010.
"I love our motto: 'Make regulars.' That just kind of sums it all up," he says. "We've established a community, I love the people, I love cooking here, and we have a really good time. I'm happy." In the following interview, Simmons weighs in on happiness, bad-ass steel, orgasms and his search for the elusive McNugget.
Ten words to describe you: How about ten letters instead? P-a-s-s-i-o-n-a-t-e.
Six words to describe your food: Fresh, crisp, clean, worldly, playful and twisted.
What are your ingredient obsessions? Booze and fat. Every dish I make has those two ingredients, mainly because I think it's just a flavor combination that can't be beat. I have a vegetarian and vegan menu that's also out of this world, but out of my two weapons in the kitchen, you only get the booze in the vegetarian/vegan menu. Have some fat, people: It's good for you.
What are your kitchen-tool obsessions? You should always ask before touching another cook's knife. My knife is just that -- my knife -- so don't touch it. I've always taken pride in my steel, and I have quite a nice collection, so I want to be the only one to use them. I share sometimes, but only if you're really lucky.
Favorite local ingredient and where you get it: Now that it's summer, I'm hooked on the sauerkraut at Soul Kraut, a fermentation company in Five Points. They've teamed up with Grant Family Farms to start a cabbage patch, and their goal is to plant, grow, harvest and ferment enough kraut to be able to supply Coors Field for a whole season of brats.
Most underrated ingredient: Salt, especially Maldon sea salt. It's a great finisher, and it just melts away when you put a little on the top.
Favorite spice: Togarashi has a blend of peppers that really gets my tastebuds going, and whenever I use it, nobody can quite put their finger on what it is. It's a great little secret.
One food you can't live without: I love duck, and if I couldn't have it anymore, I'd curl up and die. It's fatty and it flies. What more could you want in a food?
One food you detest: Goat cheese. My father and I went to a restaurant in Mexico when I was about nine or ten, and I wanted steak, but my father said it was too expensive, so he made me get cheese pizza. The only cheese I knew about then was what Pizza Hut calls cheese now. When the pizza came out, along with my father's steak, I took one bite and spit it out. It was goat-cheese pizza, and it was horrible. It left such a sour taste in my mouth that I still can't eat it.
Food trend you wish would disappear: Fast food. If we'd all just take time to eat, there wouldn't be a need for that nasty crap. All I know is that I've been breaking down chickens for years and never once have I ever found the damn "McNugget." Now they offer you the opportunity to consume forty at a time if you so desire. Where the hell do all those "McNuggets" come from? Think about it.
What you'd like to see less of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: We need to slow our growth down just a bit. I feel like there are too many places that open so fast and then close just as fast. There are some great gems in this city, but they just need a chance to grow. My dream is for Denver to be a major culinary city -- to hang with cities like Chicago and New York. This city is full of talent and passion, and we've taken our time to get to where we are, so slow the roll before the next big thing happens.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: I'd like to see more local farms distributing their bounty to restaurants. We have a great state that offers so many things, but we don't have a lot of means to get them delivered. Independent farms are just like independent restaurants: It takes a whole bunch of effort to succeed. We all do the best we can to support local farms, but it's hard for the farms to meet our needs. If we can get the farms to produce and deliver, we could have a match made in heaven.
If you only had 24 hours in Denver, where would you eat? Vesta Dipping Grill. It's my favorite place in town. I've always loved the idea of pairing multiple sauces to go with your dish, and my first chef always told me that sauce finishes the plate, and the sauce at Vesta always makes my duck taste exquisite. It's a place I hold in high regard for the talent that's in the kitchen.
Favorite cheap eat in Denver: La Pasadita has the best Mexican hamburger in town, and the joint's even located on its own little island.
Most memorable meal you've ever had: I was in Australia with my family staying with some friends who had a yacht, and in the early morning, we all got on the boat and headed to the fish market at the docks, which was just incredible; the Tasmanian crabs were as big as your torso. We loaded everything we'd bought on the boat and then enjoyed the freshest shellfish lunch I've ever had. You name it, we had it. Throwing the shells back into the ocean and riding off into the sunset with my family...it was the best meal ever.
Favorite childhood food memory: When I was in the seventh grade, I signed up for home economics as an elective for my required credits -- plus, it was a class that had all kinds of hot chicks. After sewing my own pair of boxer shorts and learning how to make cookies, we approached the Thanksgiving part of the class. It was all extra credit, and there was a list of duties that I had to do to help with Thanksgiving dinner. My mother thought it would be a great idea for my stepfather and me to make the whole dinner for the family. We made the turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes baked with maple syrup, bananas, marshmallows and walnuts. Gerry, my stepfather, passed away from a rare cancer in 2008, but to this day, I make those sweet potatoes every Thanksgiving, and they taste just as good as when he and I made them for the first time.
Biggest compliment you've ever received: "I just came a little in my pants." In my career, it's always nice to hear women tell you that what you've created in the kitchen results in an orgasm in their mouth. It's another thing when you have men tell you the same thing, but when someone -- anyone -- tells me that I've satisfied them with my cooking, I just sit back and smile, because maybe I just came a little, too.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've ever been given? Some bad-ass steel. I was with Troy Guard for a Beard House dinner, and he took me to the Korin knife store in Manhattan that has this ancient samurai suit in the window on display. We rang the bell, and a little lady answered and told us to come in. I couldn't believe what I saw: so much shiny new steel in one place. On one wall was a glass case that started in the corner and wrapped around the entire store. Knives started at $100 and finished around $5,000. Chef looked at me and said I had thirty minutes and $200 to pick a knife. It was nuts, kind of like a game show or something. There were easily 1,000 knives to choose from, but I found my steel quick like a bunny. I never do an event without that knife; it's always with me, although it's retired from the kitchen and now lives at home with me. But when I retired it, Leigh Jones bought me a new knife on a trip to New York City. It's always nice when you can say your best utensil in the kitchen was a gift from some great people in the business.
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What's your dream restaurant? Basically a verbal menu of new and wonderful dishes I want you to eat that day, made with fresh and local ingredients -- and free tequila shots for everyone who walks in the door, and a free cookie when you walk out. I'd want fifty seats, one turn Tuesday through Thursday, two and a half turns Friday and Saturday, and dark on Sunday and Monday.