This is part two of Lori Midson's chat session with Mike Adams, executive chef of Racines. Part one of that Chef and Tell interview ran yesterday.
Favorite restaurant in America: The Trout House, on the Deschutes River in Bend, Oregon. It specializes in fresh seafood from the Northwest: fresh-caught salmon, trout, lingcod, halibut and fresh oysters on the half-shell -- and we're talking fresh as in hours, not days. The fish is prepared to let the fresh flavors shine through, and the location, right on the river in the middle of nature, is breathtaking. I haven't been back there since 2000 or 2001, which means it's time for a visit.
Best food city in America: Denver and Boulder. Okay, so hear me out: If you want it, we've got it, what with such an eclectic mix of styles, personalities and cuisines, renowned chefs, mom-and-pop joints and everything in between. When I arrived in Colorado, in 1976, we were called a "cowtown," and we got most of our culinary inspiration from the East and West Coasts and, of course, the Midwest, but now, thirty-some-odd years later, we're making a name for ourselves. Finally.
Favorite Denver/Boulder restaurant(s) other than your own: I like sushi. I mean, I really like sushi, and I really like Japango in Boulder. They offer all-you-can-eat sushi on Tuesday nights for around $30, and it's a great selection with fresh tastes and good presentations, plus my two sons -- starving college students at CU -- can meet me there. I also really like Namiko's in Arvada.
Current Denver culinary genius: Elise Wiggins from Panzano. She's always striving to push the culinary envelope, practicing sustainability and using local ingredients -- plus they have great Northern Italian cuisine, and I like good Italian food.
Guiltiest food pleasure? Chocolate. Whether it's milk, dark or white, I absolutely can't live without it. At Racines, there are times when I need a chocolate fix, so I'll grab a handful of Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips.
Favorite music to cook by: AC/DC. I love '70s and '80s rock and roll, but I really like AC/DC.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? I've been given a lot of gifts over the years -- hand-held mixers, knives and food processors -- but a neighbor recently gave me some canning jars, a jar puller, a canning kettle and instructions, and something just sort of kicked in, so I started canning for the first time ever. I canned dill pickles, apricot preserves, jams and jellies and spicy beer beans; my grandma did it in Virginia, and my dad does it in Idaho. I've got plenty of garden space at my house, and if I can keep my girlfriend from giving all the fresh vegetables away to everyone she knows, I'll probably have enough to can next year.
One book that every chef should read: This will date me, but in 1976, for my birthday, I received a West Bend electric wok, and with it came my first cookbook: Madame Wong's Long-life Chinese Cookbook, by S. T. Ting Wong and Sylvia Schilman. It's a really great book that I still refer to, even now.
What show would you pitch to the Food Network, and what would it be about? Refrigerator Soup. I'd pull things out of the fridge, including leftovers, and make them into something new and exciting by basically teaching people what flavors go together to make new dishes. There's no reason to throw away the leftovers when there are so many different things that you can do to turn them into something completely fun and different.
You're making a pizza. What's on it? It's got to be a thin-crust pizza with roasted garlic, olive oil, roasted fennel, thinly sliced baked Yukon Gold potatoes, arugula, shaved prosciutto and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano -- both earthy and salty.
You're at the market. What do you buy two of? Chocolate bars.
Weirdest customer request: Unusual requests seem to be commonplace lately, what with all the food intolerances and allergies. I don't how weird this is, but we do have a customer who brings in their own bread and asks us to toast it for them.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: Snapping-turtle soup. It was a little rubbery, but nothing at all like chicken. It was more like tough frog legs. It wasn't bad, but it won't be on my menu anytime soon, either.
Best culinary tip for a home cook: Don't be afraid to try new things. More specifically, think about your favorite cuisine and your favorite food, and find a cookbook that matches both -- and for your first experiment, always, always follow the recipe exactly. If you don't like the result, tweak it or trash it and find another recipe to try; you'll become a great cook in no time.
What's your favorite knife? Any knife that's sharp, but I really like the Wüsthof Grand Prix series -- specifically, the twenty-centimeter knife. It's got great balance, a flexible blade, and it holds a great edge.
If you could cook for one famous chef, dead or alive, who would it be? Guy Fieri. I'm here, while he's up in Alaska, eating beer cheese with reindeer sausage, reindeer-sausage hoagies, shrimp and halibut hushpuppies, or a steak tournedo with béarnaise and mushroom gravy. He seeks out great food and chefs to be on his shows, makes them comfortable and then lets them perform on national TV. I share his philosophy on food: Make it great, keep it simple, stick with what works, and get your products locally.
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Celebrity chef who needs a muzzle: Gordon Ramsay. He's just not my style. Besides, if you really talked to people like that, how can you possibly accomplish your goals? And what's the benefit of walking into a kitchen and starting to yell before you even know what's going on? He takes everything way too far.
Hardest lesson you've learned, and how you've changed because of it: Humility. There's nothing more humbling then being demoted or fired, and I've had the unique pleasure of experiencing both. When I was much younger, I did everything the way I thought it should be done, and I didn't listen very well -- and when you work in a corporate environment, those kinds of things don't fly. After a few hard-earned lessons, I finally figured out my problems: For whatever reason, I had a hard time holding my employees accountable to the same high standards I held for myself; and, number two, you can't forget that you always have to answer to a higher power. I've learned to ask questions and make sure that I listen to the answer, even though it may not be the answer I want to hear.
Last meal before you die: Peanut butter and jelly sandwich with chocolate milk, or a thick slice of prime rib with au jus, fresh horseradish, a loaded baked potato and fresh asparagus. It's just the simple things that make me happy. When you're done, you're done: I don't need any hoopla.