It's 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday night, the crowds at Marco's Coal-Fired Pizza have finally thinned, and owner-chef Mark Dym is exhausted. "I was up at 4 a.m. yesterday morning so I could make 800 fucking pounds of chicken wings," he says, before quickly adding that he's "not complaining." He pauses, sweeps the room with his intense eyes and declares: "This is the best job I've ever had. I can't even begin to tell you how much I love what I do, how much satisfaction I get from the people who walk through that door every day, some of them twice in 24 hours. It's just amazing."
And it's a far cry from Dym's former gig as the owner of a commodities company in Fort Lauderdale, where he, his wife, Kristy, and their three kids had a gorgeous house near the beachfront and a cushy lifestyle -- but not much of an actual life. "I was making a ton of money, but I wasn't happy," admits Dym, who also confessed that he'd never set foot in Colorado before upping and leaving the land of palm trees and Cadillacs for pine trees and unicycles back in 2007, the same year he opened his pizzeria in the Ballpark neighborhood.
That's where I sat down with Dym last week. And while he shoved chocolate chip cannolis and pizzas under my nose, he professed his love for Caputo 00 Flour, waxed rhapsodic over Brian Laird, the executive chef at Barolo Grill, and dissed Denver's dearth of simple Italian joints.
Six words to describe your food: Simple, authentic, classic, pure, delicious and comforting.
Ten words to describe you: Obsessive, driven, passionate, fiery, loyal, sensitive, witty, accommodating, generous and entrepreneurial.
Favorite ingredient: Caputo 00 Flour. It's the whitest flour you can get. In America, they add a lot of additives and fillers to flour. Caputo flour is all natural. It's such a clean, great product. It doesn't burn in the oven, and you can't get the Neapolitan texture from any other flour.
Most overrated ingredient: Dried oregano. I hate oregano. It's bitter. It's overpowering. It sucks. I use a little bit here at the restaurant, in my chicken wing marinade, but it's fresh and I use it sparingly.
Most undervalued ingredient: Fresh rosemary. It has such a refreshing, great flavor. It's a happy flavor. I use tons of it.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: It's all about teamwork. You gotta work together and stay focused. I don't want to see any telephones or texting. None of that shit is allowed in my kitchen. Wash your hands. People who don't wash their hands drive me fucking crazy. Every guest is entitled to a perfect product. If you don't agree with that, then you can fucking leave -- and I'll cook it. At the same time, I'll give my staff the shirt off my back, but ultimately, I don't expect less than perfection.
One food you detest: Anchovies. Fucking hate them. Don't like the way they, taste, smell, feel or look. I hate everything about them. They're not on the menu at Marco's, but if someone asks for them -- that's rare -- I do have some white anchovies on hand.
One food you can't live without: Pasta. I gotta have pasta. It's a survival food that brings me back to when I was a kid. It's just so fulfilling and comforting, and the pastabilities -- ha, ha -- are endless.
Most embarrassing moment in the kitchen: Not long after we opened the restaurant, I was in the kitchen trying to show a few guests how we do our pizzas, and when I pulled one of the pizzas out of the oven, it went sliding off the peel and hit the deck, nearly landing on the feet of the people in the kitchen. Definitely not my most wonderful moment.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: I would love to find a simple Italian restaurant where I could order an authentic veal milanese with a little salad and a side of penne arrabbiata. I don't want fancy shit, just a nice big veal chop, flattened out with the breading. There's nowhere I can get that in this town.
What you'd like to see less of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: All that fusion-confusion shit. I'm confused. I don't get it. I don't mean any disrespect to any confusion restaurant out there, but in my opinion, there's enough of them.
Current Denver culinary genius: Brian Laird, the executive chef at Barolo Grill. The guy is completely off the charts and yet so underrated. What's so cool about Brian is that he's actually in the kitchen cooking. I love his creativity, passion, quirkiness and energy, and he always has something new he's working on. Every time I go in for dinner, he just cooks for me. He'll put a dish on my table and say, "drink this, or eat this." Last time it was cantaloupe soup with sour cream gelato, and I gotta tell you, it's the most memorable dish I've had in Denver. When you let him loose, he's just fantastic. I also think that Larry DiPasquale, the president of Epicurean Catering, is amazing from an execution standpoint. He blows me away with his execution, no matter if it's a party for 50 or 5,000. His execution is utterly flawless.
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Favorite celebrity chef: He may not have his own TV show on the Food Network, but Don Antonio is the best pizzaiolo in the United States, and one of the best in the world. He's a celebrity in my eyes, and he's certainly a celebrity in the pizza world.
Celebrity chef that should shut up: Anthony Mangieri, a famous New York pizzaiolo that should shut the fuck up because while he was one of the first guys to do Neapolitan pizzas, he totally badmouths his New York competition, and he has the audacity to claim that that he makes better pizzas than the guys in Naples. He has a restaurant in New York, Una Pizza Napoletana, where he's charging $22 for a fucking margherita pizza. You've got to be kidding me.
Hardest lesson you've learned: That I can't please everyone, no matter how hard I want to. People say their pizza is too burnt, too crispy or too soggy, and while I try to make every pizza perfect, I don't always succeed. A while ago, two very nice women came in and ordered a pizza: One woman said there wasn't enough cheese, and the other woman said there was too much cheese. It was a defining moment for me. And, then, when the Italians come in, I have to cook their pizzas different from the Americans'. So what can I do but follow my passion and just hope that people will love what we do? At the end of the day, though, I have to please myself.
For part two of my interview with Mark Dym, check back here tomorrow.