This is part one of Lori Midson's interview with Matt Mine, executive chef of Oceanaire. To read part two of that interview, click here.
Matt Mine, the executive chef of Oceanaire, is searching for a new girlfriend, and since he hasn't had particularly good luck with online dating sites like match.com, he figured he might as well just put himself out there, right here in Westword, in case the "outdoorsy, patient and social media-savvy girl" he's searching for is reading this.
Mine, who's 33 years old, an avid dog lover (he's got two boxers) and a near Oceanaire lifer -- he's been anchored to the company, a national seafood chain that's currently in bankruptcy court, with Landry's (!) making a bid for it, for more than eight years -- admits that he's easily embarrassed, works long hours and isn't the emotional type -- and he doesn't want you to be, either. "If you're needy," he warns, "you needn't apply." Nor is he interested in "naggers, cat lovers or anyone who's too emotional." Instead, says Mine, who's currently trying "to get a real hand grenade converted into a gear shift knob" for his Jeep, you should be someone who "doesn't mind hanging out and doing nothing, or doing something completely off the wall" -- like messing around with hand grenades, for example. He prefers a woman who's "silly but serious" and someone who "likes to knock back a couple of beers on a Sunday afternoon." It's a plus if you're a Pittsburgh Steelers fan.
"I can cook, right? At least I have that going for me," insists Mine, who prefers that his next girlfriend appreciate not just food, but his food. And she's "gotta be able to help me fix up my damn yard, because while I can cook, I don't have a green thumb." If it sounds like you're the ideal candidate, Mine recommends that you track him down on Facebook, but be advised that he has a vetting process in place, albeit a loose one. "I don't want to scare anyone away," he says.
After reading his interview, we suspect Mine will be inundated with offers.
Six words to describe your food: Must include bacon or pork products.
Ten words to describe you: Nervous, neurotic, silly, serious, humorous, dog-loving, caring, simple and fun.
Proudest moment as a chef: As a child, I remember watching Saturday-morning cooking shows on PBS rather than cartoons. I'd watch Julia Child, Martin Yan and Graham Kerr, before he, well, you know... Anyway, nine or ten years ago, I had the opportunity to cook a dinner at Beringer Vineyards, where Julia Child was one of the hosts. This was shortly before she died, but even at her age, she was still firing off her witty comments and downing wine. It was a great honor to meet someone with a personality as big as hers, and the fact that really amazing chefs like Bradley Ogden and Thomas Keller were there, too, made it even more worthwhile. I remember being shocked at having been invited to cook with all of these huge, superstar chefs.
Best food city in America: Seattle. I used to work there, and I was challenged by so many things, including the people who live there; they're really knowledgeable about food. I constantly had to come up with creative new ways of doing things, because that's what our customers wanted -- they wanted creativity. I was always challenged by my peers, and I loved that there were so many local ingredients so close within my reach. And, damn, the seafood is good, especially the Dungeness crab.
Favorite restaurant in America: I can't possibly answer that. I've eaten at some of the best restaurants in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Portland, Miami, Atlanta and many other top food cities, and to limit myself to just one favorite restaurant wouldn't be fair. I see you aren't satisfied with that answer. Oh, fine, if I had to pick one restaurant -- since you're forcing me to choose a favorite -- I'd have to say Aqua in San Francisco. Everything you look for in a great dining experience was exceeded: the food, ambience and service. We were dressed really casually, and yet we were treated just as well as all those moneyed brokers who were seated around us.
Best recent food find: The braised-lamb gyro from Gastro Cart at 18th and Curtis. Man, that thing is delicious.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: I used to be really firm, almost Napoleonic, but I got bitten in the butt once, so I've mellowed. Now I'm more about having fun and just getting the job done. But I do have a few quirky rules: The doilies can't be turned upside down, and no one is allowed to stack more than one doily on a plate; whoever takes the last paper towel had better put a new paper towel roll in; and there's a right and wrong side to our housemade potato chips -- they can't be turned upside down. Am I neurotic? Yes.
What's never in your kitchen? An empty coffee cup. I drink a lot of coffee, all day, every day -- even a shot of espresso before I leave for the evening. Chile-pepper chef pants are never in my kitchen, either; they're silly and stupid.
Favorite music to cook by: I don't have a radio for the cooks to listen to during service, but the dish guys have one in back and play Mexican accordion music all night. During prep, setup and service, there's usually a lot of Modest Mouse, Supersuckers, Fu Manchu and classic rock like the Who, Steely Dan or the Kinks going on in my head. I like the sounds of the kitchen the most, though: the oven doors opening and closing, the exhaust fans, the sounds of pots hitting the stove and the clank of silverware.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: Grazing menus. I like menus where you don't have to be super-committed. I'd also like to see more country French foods and a place where you can find all the chefs in Denver eating after a busy night working.
What you'd like to see less of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: Amateur reviews. Let me give you an example: A customer recently complained that our scallops were gritty, only it wasn't sand: It was coarsely ground pepper -- I checked -- but the idiot went right ahead and wrote that his scallops were sandy.
Culinarily speaking, Denver has the best: I think the versatility and diverse personalities of all the chefs in Denver is pretty amazing. We have rock-and-rollers, hippies, health nuts, just plain freaks and everything in between. That makes for some pretty imaginative menu creations and styles. Colorado is where all the pioneers ended up, right?
Excluding chain restaurants, culinarily speaking, Denver has the worst: Wait a second! I'm a chef at a chain restaurant. That's right: I work for a corporate restaurant. It's a chain for lack of a better word, but my drive, my passion and my love for cooking in Denver is no different from the next chef. Yes, a chain restaurant usually denotes mediocrity, but at the Oceanaire we have the ability to run the kitchen like it's an independent, local restaurant. We can change our menu to match the likes of local diners, we can incorporate locally grown ingredients, and we can write our own menus. I'm working toward the same goal of making Denver a culinary hotspot, just like other local chefs.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: I tried fugu once, which was more of a cool experience than a weird experience, except for the fact that I could have died. But I didn't. I'm alive! I also ate an ant when I was like four; it bit my tongue.
Weirdest customer request: Anyone who comes to a seafood restaurant and says that they're allergic to seafood. Then there was this guy who came in recently and liked the lobster bisque so much that he ordered a second one for dessert and then more to take home. He even gave me a hug.
Current Denver culinary genius: I can think a dozen chefs who are propelling Denver into the national spotlight: These chefs own their own farms, make their own salumi and slaughter their own animals. We have a ton of risk-taking chefs, who collectively push each other to challenge their limits. Look at James Rugile from Venue: He was a James Beard semi-finalist. And check out Alex Seidel from Fruition. I talked about owning my own farm when I was a kid, but to actually pull it off, as Alex has, is incredible. Owning a farm is equivalent to having a full-time job; being a chef is like having two full-time jobs. That means that what Alex is doing is equivalent to having three jobs.
Favorite Denver restaurant(s) other than your own: This question is designed to cause friction between chefs, isn't it? I have a lot of favorite Denver restaurants, but here's the short list: Biker Jim's has great dogs, especially the veal brat and the elk-cheddar dog; I love Snooze for its silly, fun pancakes; the $5 burger, PBR and fries at Steuben's is a smokin' deal; I love the build-your-own spring rolls at New Saigon; and Opus, Fruition, Shazz and Bones all have great menus.
Favorite celebrity chef: Marco Pierre White. That guy was an animal. Nowadays, you could never get away with any of the stuff he pulled. And I admire how he accomplished so much, so fast, but still knew when to stop. There's something to be said for a guy who reached perfection and then pretty much walked away from the restaurant business. He realized that once you've reached perfection, you can't get much better than that.
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Celebrity chef who should shut up: Everyone knows it's Emeril. He's like the Howard Stern of the culinary world: He was funny once, maybe twenty years ago, but now it's time to move on and find something new.
What's your favorite knife? I know it's shocking, but I'm really not married to a certain knife. I still have my first Forschner knife, which has a basic, light, thin blade that cuts things easily and is easy to sharpen. I keep it at home.
What's next for you? Hopefully a new girlfriend.
To read the rest of Lori Midson's interview with Matt Mine, click here.