This is part two of Lori Midson's interview with Eli Odell, executive chef of Highland Tap and Burger. In part one of that interview, Odell dishes on what he learned from Matt Selby, and what might happen if you wear chile-pepper pants in his kitchen.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? A full set of cast iron from my brother, Tate. I believe it was a birthday gift, and I use and oil them religiously. But at the risk of coming off as being spoiled, truly the best kitchen-related gift I've ever gotten is the culinary-school tuition from my grandparents. They worked their tails off so that I could have the opportunity. God bless them.
One book that every chef should read: Happy in the Kitchen, by Michel Richard. He has a creatively playful way of looking at food, and it's important to remain happy and not too serious in this profession.
What show would you pitch to the Food Network, and what would it be about? Deadliest Chef. I'd go out on the crab boats, lobster boats and swordfish boats and cook the stuff up on the spot. It could be any life-threatening scenario, although just being on the boats themselves is life-threatening when you're in the barren sea.
Favorite celebrity chef: Anthony Bourdain. He's a no-frills guy, and his writing never ceases to thoroughly entertain me. Thanks for sending me off to sleep with a smile, Tony.
Celebrity chef who needs a muzzle: I think it would be hard for someone to become a celebrity if they were told to shut up. I've got nothing to say but congratulations -- how'd you do it?
Best culinary tip for a home cook: Line everything with heavy-duty aluminum foil; it makes cleanup easy.
Favorite music to cook by: Jedi Mind Tricks. Nothing like clever, angry underground hip-hop.
Favorite restaurant in America: When I read Michael Ruhlman's The Soul of a Chef years ago, he wrote a lot about Cleveland chef Michael Symon, who I liked right away. It wasn't until years later, when I met my wife, that going to his restaurant in Cleveland became a reality. Leslie grew up just outside of Cleveland, and every time we visit, we go either to Lola or Lolita. I highly recommend the bacon ice cream.
Best food city in America: Boston is home for me, and my grandfather raised fish in Maine, so I'm most comfortable where the sun rises over the ocean.
Favorite Denver/Boulder restaurant(s) other than your own: Vesta Dipping Grill, Steuben's and Lola. It's always good to see old friends.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: Good old-fashioned work ethics and aspiring cooks who have a true devotion to the profession.
What you'd like to see less of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: Overpriced, bad food. Denver is so rich with Mexican culture, but I'm completely boggled by how there can still be so many restaurants with terrible, overpriced Mexican food.
Favorite dish to cook at home: Steamed artichokes with Marty's hollandaise. My stepmother, Marty, is an incredible chef. I say "chef" because she has all the ability and talent to be one. I think she actually took a chef position once when we moved down to the Virgin Islands, but it was at the dinner table each night as a child that I was exposed to her excellent, refined food. She's a big part of why I do what I do.
Favorite dish on your menu: The Cutthroat Porter-braised short rib sandwich on a caramelized onion bun with horseradish-celery-root slaw. All the "foodies" that come in always order it, but I wish we sold more of them overall. I also love our housemade whole-grain ale mustard. It's a two-day process to make, and it gets eaten up at an alarming rate. Now that I think about it, it might be a tie between the mustard and our housemade pickles, which get devoured as well.
If you could put any dish on your menu, even though it might not sell, what would it be? Chicken tikka masala with plain naan. It's a household favorite, but we're a burger bar, so no go.
Are chefs artists, craftsman or both? Both. There's always the thought process, followed by the execution.
What's your favorite knife? An eleven-inch MAC chef's knife made from soft, thin, affordable Japanese steel, but if that's not handy, then a newly replaced red- or blue-handled twelve-inch chef's knife from Daryl at The Knife Guys.
Biggest kitchen disaster: During our third month at the Tap, I hammered -- that's "burned" in kitchenspeak -- eighty pounds of wings in the convection oven. It took an extra month to get our food costs back where they needed to be.
What's next for you? Who knows? Highland Tap and Burger 2? We'd love to open a few more and spread the love a little bit.
Last meal before you die: A lobster roll, fries and a cold beer from Newick's Lobster House in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
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