This is part one of my interview with Cory Treadway, exec chef of the Wynkoop; part two of our conversation will run in this space tomorrow.
"I was the first white kid -- the first gringo -- to ever roll egg rolls," declares Cory Treadway, recalling his first gig in a restaurant, a Thai joint in Terre Haute, Indiana, where he was born and raised. "The woman who owned the place liked the way I mopped the floors: I didn't use too much water, and I guess she appreciated that."
Treadwell doesn't mop floors any longer (at least, not routinely), or roll egg rolls. Instead, he oversees the mammoth kitchen at Wynkoop Brewing Company, where he's been the executive chef since last August. And the path leading up to his position there took him through some of the best restaurants in Denver.
See also: - Denver Yelp reviews: Head brewer Andy Brown reads the complaints against Wynkoop - Wynkoop Brewing and the Cheeky Monk get together to brew a dark saison - Breckenridge-Wynkoop have a concept for South Pearl -- but the name's still a secret
But first there was the Outback Steakhouse, where he started out scrubbing plates before he got a big promotion: lurking over the Bloomin' Onion station. "I worked there throughout college, and up until I left, I was the record-breaker for selling the most Bloomin' Onions in one night -- a whopping 250 of them," recalls Treadway, who admits that while the badge of honor made him famous for an evening, he's never had the appetizer since.
After busting out Bloomin' Onions for a few years, he went to culinary school in Louisville, Kentucky, where he also did time as a sous chef at a local restaurant, until he and his then-girlfriend moved to Denver. And that's when he began cooking in big-name kitchens, like the long-gone Mel's Bar and Grill, which in its heyday was Denver's restaurant of the moment. He cooked alongside Frank Bonanno and Tyler Wiard for two years, then took off for Costa Rica for some "reflective" time after he and his girlfriend split up.
In the meantime, Wiard, today the exec chef at Elway's Cherry Creek, departed Mel's to spearhead the kitchen at the now-shuttered Fourth Story, and when Treadway returned to Denver, he joined him as the lead line cook and butcher. A year later, when Bonanno opened Luca D'Italia, Treadway slung his knives over his shoulder and stepped into that kitchen, and then, three months later, hustled over to Goose Sorensen's Solera. Money motivated the change: "I only left Luca because the money was significantly better at Solera, to the tune of $200 more per week," he says.
After three years at Solera, he again fell in step with Bonanno, cooking at Harry's Bar & Grill, a restaurant in Uptown that never really made much of a splash. And when the relationship between Bonanno and his partner went south, Bonanno gave him a heads-up. "He told me to get the hell out of there," recalls Treadway, who landed at Elway's Cherry Creek in 2006, sharing kitchen space, again, with Wiard. "I've learned so much from Frank, Tyler and Goose -- everything from food-and-wine pairings to respect to menu writing and execution -- and I'm really lucky to have worked for all three of these guys."
He contributed a half-dozen years to Elway's before departing because he was "burnt out on steakhouses," he says, and "wanted to do my own thing, in terms of menu creativity and having my own staff." And that's exactly what Chris Cina, the corporate chef of Breckenridge-Wynkoop, offered him. "I was definitely looking for an exec-chef position and a great company that gave me some freedom and benefits, and Chris wanted me to bring my background and experience to the menu, so it all just worked out," says Treadway, who in the following interview praises the pig, names his five favorite Denver/Boulder restaurants and issues a plea to stop the waste.
How do you describe your food? Simple and rustic with creative twists. I like to make food that makes sense to the palate, so that when you take your first bite, you actually know what you're eating because you can taste it. I rely on my French fundamentals when it comes to execution in the kitchen, and I think that comes through in my food.
Ten words to describe you: Spontaneous, rebellious, independent, creative, lucky, patient, kind, strong, understanding and reliable.
What are your ingredient obsessions? I hate to sound redundant, because it seems like every chef says this, but screw it: It's bacon. Bacon fat and pork are both obsessions. I'm also a huge fan of prime beef, fresh frog's legs, diver scallops, foie gras, sushi-grade mackerel, oysters and uni. I guess you could say I'm obsessed with proteins, although I really like fresh-clipped herbs, too.
What are your kitchen-gadget obsessions? I'm really not a gadget guy, although I love working with good, solid, sharp German knives. Spoons can be utilized for a lot of things, too, like flipping a steak or turning a piece of salmon, plus you can taste with them. My prep staff is pretty excited about the new rolling garlic chopper I just gave them, as well.
Favorite local ingredient and where you get it: I love the habanero-cured bacon from the boys at Tender Belly. It starts out with a nice smooth pork-belly flavor, and the habanero cure slowly sneaks up on you and leaves you with a nice burn. It's one of those things that gives you smoky, salty, sweet and hot, all in one bite.
One ingredient that you won't touch: I'd have to say black truffle oil. It's very aromatic, and I know some people really like it, but it doesn't have a whole lot of flavor -- not to mention it's extremely overpriced for what amounts to little substance. I also think ghost chiles are pretty ridiculous; they'll burn you in more ways than one. And when cooking with them, I've found that they really don't impart much flavor, just a ton of really unpleasant heat.
One food you detest: I don't like green peppers; I think the tannin in them tends to overpower things. Green peppers have their place in Cajun cooking, and that's about it, as far as I'm concerned. I generally avoid working with them.
One food you can't live without: Oh, man, I love pizza, especially the simplicity of it when it's done right: good San Marzano tomato sauce, quality cheese and good cured meat -- you can never go wrong. My favorite place in Denver to get a great, authentic Neapolitan pizza is Marco's Coal-Fired Pizzeria, over in the Ballpark neighborhood. They really know how to do pizza right.
Food trend you'd like to see in 2013: A continuation of the farm-to-table trend. It's such a solid, commonsense concept and benefits both small farmers and the local economy. And as a result, the food is just better.
Food trend you'd like to see disappear in 2013: Burger joints. There are way too many of these right now. In the last five to ten years, everyone has figured out how to make a good burger. In my opinion, it doesn't take a chef to make a good burger.
What recent innovation has most influenced the restaurant industry in a significant way? Smartphones. Now that everyone has access to whatever information they want, right at their fingertips, our guests are more educated about what they're consuming on a minute-to-minute basis. It also gives us the opportunity to go paperless on a lot of advertising via social media.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? A butcher block that my mom gave me when I graduated from culinary school back in 1996. I still have it in my kitchen, and I use it every day. Abner, my cat, loves to sleep on it as well.
What's your fantasy splurge? A meal at the French Laundry.
What was the last cookbook you bought, and what recipes are you cooking from it? 1080 Recipes, by Simone and Inés Ortega. The last thing I made was shirred eggs soufflé-style with grated cheese and ham.
Favorite dish on your menu: Right now, I love the new baby-kale salad with crispy quinoa. I think people are really surprised to see a kale salad on the Wynkoop Brewery's menu, especially since we're known for pub food, not things like quinoa. It's just a really great, balanced dish, and it fits in with the fact that we're lightening things up around here. People are starting to take notice.
Biggest menu bomb: When I was at Mel's in Cherry Creek, we had tagliatelle pasta with grilled calamari, white anchovies and a kalamata-olive tapenade. It sounded like a good idea at the time, but after a few weeks, we realized that the combination of calamari and tagliatelle was a textural nightmare.
Weirdest customer request: We had a regular customer at Elway's in Cherry Creek who always ordered sea bass or halibut well done...but didn't want it dry. Her plate had to be so hot to the touch that it burned her. Interestingly, we could never get it right, but she came back every weekend anyway.
Weirdest thing you've ever put in your mouth: Fried squirrel, when I was ten years old. It was my second or third time hunting, and since I killed the squirrel, my Uncle Billy made sure that I ate it.
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If you had the opportunity to open your own restaurant with no budget constraints, what kind of restaurant would you open? A taco shack on the beach, somewhere in Central or South America, where there's fresh fish right out of the ocean, homemade tortillas and fresh salsas made with tropical fruits. That's heaven.