This is part two of Midson's interview with Sheila Lucero, head chef of Jax Fish House. To read part one of the interview, click here.
Culinary inspirations: My dad. He's a great cook who's got an unbelievable passion for food. I've always wanted to cook like him. The seasons are great for inspiration, too, because there are always different ingredients available to keep my dishes fresh. Traveling to Italy was unbelievably inspiring for me, mostly because everything was so good there that I couldn't eat enough to eat. Denver has a lot of great chefs, and being around those chefs, doing events with the Jamey Faders and the Matt Selbys of the world, inspires me to be a better chef and to continue to strive to be as professional as possible. Dave Query, the guy I've worked for for the past eight years, is totally the man. He allows me the freedom to write my menus and to create the food that I like, and I love talking with him because he has such a great knowledge of food. The guy's been around the block. Johnny Ehrhart, my sous chef, has become a huge inspiration because he pushes me to be a better chef, and Adam, our general manager at Jax-Denver, is always bringing me inspiration through all the crazy ingredients be brings into the restaurant. And then there's Julia Child, Judy Rodgers and Alice Waters -- the female pioneers of the culinary world who are just kick-ass chefs. And Thomas Keller...I don't even know where to begin with Thomas Keller. His cookbooks -- I get so much out of them, and just the way he handles himself as a celebrity chef who doesn't behave like a celebrity, is as inspiring as anything.
Proudest moment as a chef: A few years ago, during a brainstorming session about the kinds of events that we do at Jax, I came up with an idea to create an all-female chef cooking event, something that would bring together some of the best female chefs in Denver to our little kitchen here at Jax. We named it "Females on Fire," and in our first year, we sold the restaurant out and raised money for a scholarship fund for a female pursuing a culinary degree at Johnson & Wales. It's become a really successful event, and it's for such a good cause. Getting it off the ground that first year was so fantastic, and I just get all that warm fuzziness when I think about the fact that I was able to get so many great female chefs together, a lot of whom have come back every year to participate. It's a lot of work, but people can't wait for us to do it every year, and the fact that we get to all hang out together while raising money for a great scholarship fund makes me really happy as a chef.
Best food city in America: San Francisco. When I'm there, I don't want to leave. The people, the style of the city -- they both play a part in contributing to the sophistication of the food scene there. I love Boulevard, Slanted Door, Jardinière, and especially Zuni, because it embraces everything I want in a restaurant. The food is clean, simple and super flavorful.
Favorite New York restaurant: Momofuku. It's everything I love to eat, and there's nothing vegetarian on the menu.
One food you detest: Canned black olives. I never liked them as a kid, and I don't like them now. They don't taste like an olive should taste. And I can't stand any fake pork products, like Soyrizo. It's horrible.
One food you can't live without: Green chile. My dad's Hispanic, so I grew up on it, and I still have to get my fix at least once a week. My parents actually have a whole freezer dedicated to nothing but green chile. We were joking over Christmas that we should do a vertical tasting. We take it seriously. I love D'Corazon's green chile and the green chile from Tacos Jalisco.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: Killer late-night food, like a ramen noodle bar, and more ethnic diversity and small family spots.
What you'd like to see less of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: Mediocre service. I feel like there's a lot of people in the service industry -- waitstaff -- that don't want to really be there. It's too easy to become a server. The hiring standards should be higher.
Culinarily speaking, Denver has the best: Chef camaraderie. I love that I grew up in the field among some really great guys and gals -- Jen Jasinski, Elise Wiggins, Jamey Fader, Tyler Wiard -- who I've learned so much from. It's such an honor to hang out with all these chefs. We're fortunate to be a part of a great network of talented chefs. And we would honestly do anything for one another.
Culinarily speaking, Denver has the worst: Ethnically diverse options downtown. I would love not to have to drive to Aurora for Korean barbecue. And I could always use more Vietnamese restaurants. I mean, we have hundreds of burrito ladies walking around downtown, but no banh mi ladies.
Favorite cookbooks: Judy Rodgers's Zuni Cafe. I love the ingredients she uses, the way she talks about the history of the restaurant and how she comes up with the ideas for her dishes. I reference it all the time when I'm trying to come up with menu ideas; I really like the ingredients she uses. And I think Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking is an awesome reference book to learn about the science side of things.
Favorite knife: I actually have three favorites: A sashimi knife that my brother brought back from Tokyo; my thirteen-year-old Global chef knife that's been with me everywhere; and my WÜSTHOF fish knife that I use every single day.
Current Denver culinary genius: I have always been super impressed with Jen Jasinski. She continues to write great menus and put out awesome food. She's a great presence in Denver and an intelligent chef and businesswoman.
You're making a pizza. What's on it? Prosciutto, cherry tomatoes, basil and arugula on a thin crust.
You're making an omelet. What's in it? Carnitas, green chile, tomatoes, shredded potatoes and queso fresco.
You're at the market. What do you buy two of? Bottles of wine.
After-work hangout: Zio's, Falling Rock Taphouse and my couch.
Favorite Denver restaurant other than your own: Seoul Korean BBQ. You can create your own adventure, and there are so many condiments that every bite is different. I love cooking my own food and building different combinations of flavors. You never get bored, and it's always a blast to take lots of friends there.
Favorite celebrity chef: Always Thomas Keller. He is a celebrity chef because he's a bad-ass chef, not because TV made him a celebrity. He's so reserved and intelligent, and he runs some of the best restaurants in the country. I also have to say Hosea Rosenberg. He's a homegrown chef, a friend and a great chef who's achieved something very difficult to do -- something I could never do.
Celebrity chef who should shut up: Tom Colicchio. Pimping Diet Coke, really?
If you could cook for anyone, dead or alive, who would it be? Julia Child. It would be killer to share a bottle of wine and a bowl of mussels with the world's biggest foodie.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.