Culinary inspirations: Many of the chefs in Denver -- Jamey Fader, Tyler Wiard, Matty Selby, Sean Yontz, Brian Laird, Alex Seidel and Scotty Parker -- inspire me every day. These are the guys who I see often, and they were all really supportive of me when I was going through restaurant hell a few years ago. When we're all together, they totally bring the noise, and every time I go to one of their restaurants, I always leave inspired by their cooking.
Proudest moment as a chef: I was the first chef from Wyoming to ever cook at the James Beard House, which I'm extremely proud of. And I'm pretty damn proud of the fact that I pulled a financially failing restaurant out of the abyss of bankruptcy while maintaining the integrity of the food, wine and service at Solera.
Best food city in America: New York. It's not just one of the best food cities in America; it's one of the best food cities in the world. The different restaurants and multicultural backgrounds of the chefs in that city absolutely amaze me every time I go. Whenever I go to New York, I always come back to Denver with new ideas and artistic inspiration for new dishes. And all the little ethnic shops with little goodies? Man, I love those places, and I get to bring some great stuff back home.
Favorite New York restaurant: Daniel. I had one of the most amazing dinners at Daniel back in the '90s when Mel Master sent me to New York for a week to stage. I went there when I was still a little wet behind the ears, but it's now more than ten years later, and I still believe that Daniel Boulud is one of the most talented and nicest chefs in the world.
One food you detest: Grapefruit. It's way too bitter for me. I've tried it numerous times, and I just can't do it. Plus, it makes my ears itch.
One food you can't live without: Sushi and great spicy, spicy Thai food. It's like sex to me. I crave it like a crackhead.
Favorite music to cook by: Reggae, especially Burning Spear, Bob Marley and Alpha Blondy. It's not distracting like metal or punk. It's good background music...always uplifting and positive.
Most embarrassing moment in the kitchen: I was in New York doing a photo shoot and cooking day with a bunch of food writers before the big chefs' dinner at the James Beard House, and one of the writers was helping me purée a squash soup. I told him to make sure he had the blender turned all the way down before he puréed the soup. He didn't listen. Instead, he set the blender on high, and the hot soup went all over his face and he had to be rushed to the hospital for third-degree burns and blisters on his face. I felt horrible. It was rough. I mean, the soup essentially melted his face.
Culinarily speaking, Denver has the best: Traditional Mexican food. I love the little holes-in-the-wall with great green chile and all the places with menudo. I get the carnitas burrito from Tacos el Chorizo a lot, which I love, mostly because they don't trim a lot of the fat off. You take a bite and it's all squish and love.
Culinarily speaking, Denver has the worst: Street vendor food. You can make a meal out of the street vendor food in New York and Chicago and in all sorts of other cities, but you can't do that here.
Favorite cookbooks: Culinary Artistry, by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. When I'm having a creativity block, I can open that book and it gets my brain going. It's a fantastic reference guide for chefs.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: Agouti, a small mammal in Belize, that we skinned and barbecued. It tasted like duck confit.
Current Denver culinary genius: My sous chef, Jason Butler. He blows me away with new menu ideas and some of the stuff he comes up with for our specials. He's a very talented young man and deserves a lot of credit for the success of Solera. And I've got to give mad props to Wade Kirwan at Vesta Dipping Grill. He's truly passionate about food and life; he wears his guts outside of his chef's jacket, and his food is off the charts. It's really great to see him spreading his wings. The guy's a stud.
You're making a pizza. What's on it? Pancetta, mushrooms, tomatoes, Gruyère and olives.
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You're making an omelet. What's in it? Smoked trout, porcini mushrooms, cream cheese and white truffles.
After-work hangout: The Elm. My staff lives there. And they have Buck Hunter, a cool video game with an elk running across the screen that you shoot.
If you could cook for one person, dead or alive, who would it be? My grandfather. He made this red-wine sauce with onions, garlic, button mushrooms and parsley that he'd reduce and put over steak. That's my first memory of having something in my mouth that didn't taste like ketchup, which I used to douse everything with. He died when I was young, but loved to cook and eat. He raised eleven kids and died early from smoking, but it would be a special thing for me to share what I have learned with him.
Favorite Denver restaurant(s) other than your own: I love Steuben's and the Cherry Cricket. The fried macaroni-and-cheese wedges at the Cricket are addicting. I even like to put them on my cheeseburger. At both of these places, you can just walk in, get a whiskey and a beer and some great grub. The brunch at Table 6 also kicks some serious Denver ass.