After putting in his time in Philly, Davison returned to Denver, securing the position of opening chef de cuisine at Elway's at the Ritz-Carlton, a position that was later eliminated. Davison stayed with the Ritz hotel chain for more than five years, cooking in various capacities at several properties, including Miami, St. Louis and, finally, Cleveland, where he worked his way up to exec sous chef of the hotel's culinary operations. And he would have stayed with the ritzy chain, he says, were it not for the corporate environment and...Cleveland. "I was hoping for the potential to move internationally with the Ritz, but the international properties weren't really importing that many American chefs, and I was kind of done with the corporate world; I missed being behind a cutting board. Weeks went by when I didn't pick up a knife, and I missed cooking," he says.
So he and his knives made their way back to Denver this past March, and not long after, Jennifer Jasinski, chef-owner of Bistro Vendôme, Euclid Hall and Rioja, reached out to Davison; Rodriguez was leaving, she told him. "I did a stage, a tasting, another stage and then got the job, and I couldn't be happier or more grateful for the opportunity," says Davison, who in the following interview admits that sourpusses have no place in his kitchen, recalls the exhilaration of cooking at the Oscars, and gives a shout-out to a Vietnamese restaurant that deserves to be on everyone's radar.
What do you enjoy most about your craft? Ben Davison: There are so many things that I enjoy about being a chef: the travel, good food, industry discounts, and being able to taste things that I wouldn't normally be able to afford. While working at Le Bec-Fin in Philly, for example, some guy bought the entire kitchen a round of Louis XIII. It was amazing. If I had to choose the one thing that I enjoy the most, though, it would be seeing the smiles on people's faces when they taste something delicious. It makes all the hard work worthwhile.
Describe your approach to cooking: I like to keep things simple, let the ingredients speak for themselves and keep them seasonal and local whenever possible. Simply put, I try not to complicate things too much. I mean, squash should taste like squash, right?
What are your ingredient obsessions? It all depends on the season, but now that it's fall, I'm really into different types of squashes, gourds and pumpkins. And no matter what time of year it is, a constant is chiles, although they don't have a place in Bistro Vendôme's cuisine. Nonetheless, I love all different kinds of chiles and peppers: aji amarillo, aji panca, rocoto, and even the hot guys like jolokia aji panca, and Trinidad Moruga scorpion chiles. They all have such unique flavors -- after you get over the heat, of course.
What are your kitchen-gadget obsessions? My knives. I'm a purist, and I love them. I know that all the rage is liquid nitrogen and thermal immersion circulators, but my knives are my livelihood. I love to take care of them and sharpen them, and it's a great day when I can stand behind a cutting board and butcher proteins, chop vegetables and slice herbs. That's my happy Zen place.
Favorite local ingredients and purveyors: I probably should say Colorado lamb -- it's delicious -- but I have to go with Palisade peaches. They're so juicy and wonderful, and they make Georgia peaches green with envy. Sorry, Georgians, but we've got you beat on this one. Growers Organic is one of my favorite purveyors for all things Colorado -- they're a great company for organic, local produce.