Cafe Society

Masterpiece Delicatessen chef Justin Brunson on opening a new restaurant and his fetish for foie gras and lamb testicles

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Six words to describe your food: Clean, balanced, seasonal, thoughtful, delicious and local.

Ten words to describe you: Hardworking, honest, passionate, funny, bear-like, motivated, loving, driven, loud and hungry.

Culinary inspirations: Thomas Keller has always been a huge part of motivating me to make the best food I possibly can. He's been on the top of his game for as long as I've been cooking, and he's a true master of culinary arts. Plus, his technique is perfect, and the quality of his ingredients is unparalleled; he treats them with total respect. I really, really like how he doesn't do any of that chemistry food shit. Canadian chef Martin Picard is just a total badass. If I could eat anywhere in the world, it would be at Au Pied de Cochon, in Montreal. His food is fatty, porky, ducky, and he has the largest selection of foie gras dishes I've seen anywhere. I'd love to sit down with him over a cold beer and pick his head. And then there's Julia. Oh, Julia. She really is a true inspiration, because she razzed it up and really got Americans into French food. She wasn't the best cook in the world, but she put her heart into it, and she proved that anyone else who has their heart in it can cook, too.

Favorite ingredient: Pork. It's delicious. That tasty little beast has saved almost every civilization. Love the cheeks, the belly, the shoulder -- they're all fabulous.

Most overrated ingredient: White pepper. I grew up around lots of farms in Iowa, and white pepper smells like shit.

Most underrated ingredient: Vinegars of any kind, because a few drops of acid in a dish awakens the flavors and brings balance. All home cooks should have these vinegars on hand: apple cider, sherry, champagne, red wine, rice wine. Try using any of these to liven up soups, sauces or dressings. Lemon juice is also a great ingredient; a little squirt can do wonders to liven up your favorite dish.

Favorite local ingredient and where you get it: Verde Farms microgreens. They have so much flavor, and they actually taste like what they're supposed to taste like.

One food you detest: I detest nothing, but you won't find any water chestnuts in my food. There's something about that wet-crunch texture that I'm not crazy about.

One food you can't live without: Eggs. I love them, because you can use them in both sweet and savory dishes. The key is to use good eggs from good, well-kept chickens. Try a side-to-side comparison of a cheap egg to an Heirloom egg, and you'll see exactly what I mean. Cheap eggs are bad eggs.

Best recent food find: Belly Shack. It's this bomb-ass Korean sandwich shop that I ate at on a recent trip to the Windy City. It was so good that we ordered the whole menu, but I really loved the delicious sandwiches, like the moist Korean meatballs with vermicelli noodles, cilantro, sriracha sauce and cabbage slaw stuffed into this cool naan-style pocket bread. The hot-and-sour soup was no joke, either, and the Korean barbecue beef sandwich was great, too. The flavors were big and bold, hot, sour, salty and sweet. I felt like if I closed my eyes, I could have been in Korea.

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Lori Midson
Contact: Lori Midson