As a longtime chef, restaurant owner and caterer in the region, Eric Chiappetta has been around the block in Denver’s food and beverage community. He’s also kind of a loudmouth, which makes him the perfect foil for his latest endeavor, Chef or Death, a live podcast/vodcast aimed at his people — entrepreneurial folks married to the business of cooking and serving for a living and, he hopes, the foodies who love them.
After a trial run in July, Chiappetta will be back with a second live episode, “Mental Health & Addiction,” on Monday, August 13, at 7 p.m. at the Fox Street Compound in Denver. Not unexpectedly, the topic is triggered in part by Anthony Bourdain’s suicide and how it’s indicative of systemic problems running rampant in the footloose F&B community. But not all episodes will look at the dark side, Chiappetta promises. To learn more about what’s to come, and why, we talked to him about the impetus and philosophy behind Chef or Death.
Westword: Why does the food and beverage industry need a podcast?
Eric Chiappetta: We’re primarily trying to live under a food and beverage-entrepreneur umbrella, but we’re by no means holding to one market. The industry is growing so rapidly in Denver and Colorado, so this is for anyone who’s interested in becoming an F&B entrepreneur or has been in the business for a while. We’ll be taking a peek inside the minds of people who are both starting restaurants or already working in the field.
As entrepreneurs, we have challenges. Everyone in the chef community all know each other, but we don't really spend much time together. We’re all too busy running businesses or working for someone else. There’s no common platform to voice concerns, listen or be heard in the community. I’ve owned restaurants and a catering business, and sometimes you feel like you're on an island. There’s no playbook to being an entrepreneur.
We’ll be talking to other people in the industry about their struggles and successes and helping to promote people in the industry. It will also be a forum to get together and talk about specific issues. I feel like it’s the right time for this — there are always such interesting people in the industry. This is my contribution to the community. It’s where my passion lies.
Why are you the person to do it?
I'm surprised no one had already done it. I took the last year to evaluate where I wanted to go, and what I wanted to have in life, and something along these lines was always lurking in my mind ever since I was thirteen or fourteen, when my voice changed. My mom used to always tell me, "You should be on radio." I always had a secret desire to take over The Late Show. I used to sing in a heavy-metal band, so being on a stage is fun for me. I have the gift of gab and the place of strength to try.
I also enjoy a good conversation. I think it’s unfortunate what happened with Charlie Rose. I always looked up to him and David Letterman; they are my biggest inspirations, and I felt like I could embody that style, to be able to read people, interview them and ask the right questions.
Your August edition is about mental health and addiction in the industry. Was that triggered by Anthony Bourdain’s suicide?
The beverage and food industries are very much alike in that there’s a lot of self-medicating going on. If somebody’s looking for help, I want them to know there are others out there that are going through the same thing.
It really was spurred by Bourdain; it really rocked me, and all of us who enjoyed him through his books and shows. We would look at him, and he seemingly had this incredibly perfect life. Anyone would want to trade places with him, given the chance. He was at the height of his game. To know that somebody with a seemingly perfect life was so distraught and traumatized and wracked with whatever illness that he took his own life — any of us could be in that position.
As entrepreneurs, we put one face on, when deep inside, we’re putting on another. We have to be strong all the time. I'm almost positive this might be the most important issue right now. I’m excited, scared, and will probably acknowledge that I, too, had struggles with depression and was medicating in completely the wrong way. I’ll be fully exposed, right along with the guests.
What other topics do you hope to tackle in the future?
There’s a woman who’s about to publish a book about the restaurant dining scene in Denver, and I hope to get her on in September. And I want to get a barbecue guy to do a show about the labor market and the struggles in dealing with that. I’d like to bring in a bunch of food-truck guys. I’m proud of our food-truck scene. I was just in Austin, and theirs is off-the-charts good. I want to find out how they got started and found their niches. Just because I’m dealing with food and beverage and the well is endless and bottomless, I’m trying to keep up.
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As the market moves, we want to move with it, but as with Bourdain, there are also organic things that just happen in the world, and I want to be on my toes and ready for things like that to happen — not necessarily stick to what’s trending, but what’s affecting us daily.
What do you hope listeners take away from Chef or Death?
This is an empathetic motion that I’m trying to give forward to people in the industry. They know people exactly like them, and they’re all going through the same things. And then there are the “voyeurs": people not in the industry, but who are fascinated by food, who don’t fully grasp the industry. The general dining public. I hope we serve some ears there.
See “Mental Health & Addiction,” with host Eric Chiappetta and panelists Kathy Hawkins, John Hinman and Alex Palmerton, live on Monday, August 13, at 7 p.m. at the Fox Street Compound, 725 West 39th Avenue, or catch it streaming live on Facebook.