And it was while he was at Root Down, cooking alongside Daniel Asher, that he got a phone call from Jamey Fader, culinary director of Big Red F, the restaurant group founded by Dave Query. "I had sent my resumé to Big Red F long before Jamey called, mainly because he was a chef that I always wanted to work with and I love Mexican food, so I couldn't say no, at least not to an interview," says Hardin. The interview went well, and so did his three stages in the Lola kitchen. He was hired as a sous chef, a position he's had for the last two and half years. And just this month, Hardin was promoted to executive chef, following the departure of his predecessor, Duane Walker, who's joining Fader in running the culinary side of things at Big Red F. It's a gig that Hardin hopes to keep for a long time. "I love it here; there's a really great family vibe, and we always have a really good time. I don't think I'll ever leave unless I get fired," he says.
In the following interview, Hardin talks about his affinity for Mexican cuisine and chiles, harps on today's younger generation of chefs who feel entitled, and wonders why Denver is so obsessed with pho shops.
How do you describe your food? Mexican with modern twists and big, bold flavors made with simple ingredients and traditional techniques.
Ten words to describe you: Dashing, daring, courageous, caring, faithful, friendly, handsome, spontaneous, fun and sarcastic.
What are your ingredient obsessions? Right now I can't stop using dried chiles. They make amazing sauces, and you can do so many things with them: roast them, reconstitute them, grind them into a powder -- the list is endless. I like guajillos, aji amarillos, chile de arbol and anchos. They each have something unique to add to a dish, whether it's a smoky or earthy component.
What are your kitchen-tool obsessions? I love Mac knives. There was a time when I was all about Wüsthof and Global, but I got a Mac knife for Christmas last year, and I'll never go back. In fact, I wish I had more of them.
Favorite local ingredient and where you get it: The best greens I've had in a long time come from VertiFresh, which is owned by one of our bartenders, Bob Dittman, and his brother-in-law -- and they kick ass. All of their greens are hydroponically grown in vertical beds, and they grow the most perfect crisp lettuce with an actual crunch. In the summer, we get produce from Isabel Farms, just outside Boulder. They have great seasonal produce, from melons and peppers to every type of squash.