Cafe Society

Matt Stein, chef of Bruxie: "You're only as good as the last meal you put out"

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But both Stein and his wife felt "like maybe there was a bigger world out there, with better jobs," he says, so they moved to Los Angeles, where Stein signed on with King's Seafood Company, a culinary group that owns numerous restaurants in California, including Water Grill, a fish house that's been splashed with accolades. Stein spent 23 years with the company, collecting titles that included corporate chef and chief seafood officer. "When I joined, we had just three restaurants, and when I left, we had eighteen, so it was an amazing upward learning curve," admits Stein, "but we really wanted to get out of L.A. and move back to Colorado, and we'd fallen in love with Denver after taking vacations there."

Stein and his wife touched down in the Mile High City in 2012. After taking a few months off to enjoy the scenery, Stein and business partner Jeff Goodman started working on a plan to open the state's first Bruxie, a shrine to waffles that got its start in California. "I feel young again, and I wake up every day feeling like today is going to be a great day," says Stein, who in the following interview calls Work & Class's Dana Rodriguez Denver's most dominant chef, hints that a foie-gras waffle could be on the horizon, and reveals that he can sing about shrimp in Spanish.

Lori Midson: What's your first food memory? Matt Stein: My earliest food memory is from the streets of New York City, where I was born and raised. When I was a kid, there were street vendors with open barrels of brined and marinated olives, pickles and other vegetables, salted-and-smoked fish and meats, and cheeses; obviously, city health-code requirements were a little different than they are now. And within just a few blocks of all of that, there were several delicatessens that, in my opinion, would today rank among the world's greatest practitioners of this now-fading art form. Of the three -- Schweller's, Katz's and Epstein's -- it was Epstein's that became my favorite, and it was there that I ate my first slice of pastrami. It was far more intensely flavored than anything I'd ever eaten as a young kid. The combination of the heavy crust of seasoning, the salty chewiness of the lean meat and the sultry smokiness trapped in the fat changed my life. My mother recounts that it was all I talked about for weeks.

Ten words to describe you: I admit that I'm pretty bad at the humble brag.

Five words to describe your food: Deliberate, traditional, simple, sound, tasty.

What are your ingredient obsessions? I like a spark on my palate, so I'm frequently using blends of citrus juice, zests, pickles and vinegars. Seafood has been my thing since a guy came in the back door of a hotel I was working at in Switzerland with a fifteen-kilo char he'd caught deep in Lake Vierwaldstättersee. I've worked with virtually every species of seafood since then, and I'm always looking for great sources and new ways to show off pristine quality in simple preparations.

One ingredient you won't touch: Nettles...the leaves sting you if you touch them directly.

Favorite piece of kitchen equipment: The sauté pan is pretty darned versatile.

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Lori Midson
Contact: Lori Midson