Cafe Society

Part two: Chef and Tell with Frank Bonanno

This is part two of Lori Midson's interview with Frank Bonanno, executive chef-owner of Osteria Marco, Mizuna, Luca d'Italia and Bones. You can read the first part of Midson's interview with Bonanno here.

Culinary inspirations: My mother and my sister. When I was six, seven, maybe eight, my mother and I used to cook together to the old Julia Child show. Our family ate dinner together every night, and from an early age, they cemented in me that food was more than just TV dinners and pizzas. My mom was a good cook; she'll tell you that she was shitty, but her roasted chicken thighs with rosemary were amazing. And even though my sister is an interior designer, she remains the best baker I know. Between her and my mom, they taught me that food and love will be forever linked.

Proudest moment as a chef: Three years ago, my business partner Philippe and I made dinner at Walter Isenberg's home for his birthday, and even though we were in a strange kitchen with unknown components, we turned out a flawless, flavorful and beautiful meal. We made an organic free-range rack of veal for eight people, and when we went to cut and serve it, it was a perfect "holy shit" culinary moment.

Best food city in America: New York not only has the highest number of restaurants with chefs conducting the boldest culinary experiments, and the most beautiful interior and exterior settings, but also, Rebecca Weitzman, Sean Patrick and Drew Inman -- all former top-notch Denver chefs -- are all living there. Together. They're living the dream. So now it's a great restaurant city with a little extra local love.

Favorite New York restaurant: Restaurant Daniel and Jean-Georges. God, they're both so good. I love the service, the service and the service. Both restaurants provide perfect experiences, which is my expectation when I go there -- but I've never been let down. There's such a high level of professionalism at those restaurants -- professionalism that I seek to emulate.

Favorite music to cook by: Rolling Stones or Grateful Dead, but none of the chefs will allow it in the kitchens. As a kitchen community, we prefer silence or foodie camaraderie.

Denver has the best: Al fresco dining scene. We have the best patio diners ever. People here totally love their patios; it must be all that sunshine. We've had the patio open at Osteria Marco all year, and lo and behold, people are always sitting on it.

Denver has the worst: Pastry. You shouldn't need to go to a high-end or chain restaurant to get a flaky pastry and a decent cup of coffee. What I wouldn't give to be able to walk down the street with my sons for crumb cake and a strong dark coffee that's served in a real mug.

Favorite cookbooks: I have many, many favorite cookbooks, but right now, I'm enjoying Gordon Ramsay's Three Star Chef.

Weirdest customer request: At least once a week, we'll have a customer that says they're allergic to dairy -- and then orders the burrata, which is made with cream.

Best culinary tip for a home cook: Season your food with salt and pepper. If you have pinch pots of salt and pepper -- and you use them -- you'll be a better cook.

What show would you pitch to the Food Network? I'd like to do a throwback-style show where a real chef with credence -- à la Julia Child -- uses all from-scratch, natural whole foods to walk a home cook through the cooking process in a professional kitchen. It's a real shame that the Food Network has stepped away from genuine culinary talent to focus on artificial "talent."

Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: Thomas Keller once insisted that I try dried fire ants. There was a nice crunch to them, but they were really flavorless otherwise.

Current Denver culinary genius: Jeff Osaka at Twelve. He took an unbelievable risk as a chef and first-time restaurateur when he chose an off-the-beaten path location, but his food and cooking style are both spot-on.

After-work hangout: The Bonanno living room and occasionally the porch.

Favorite Denver restaurant other than your own: Z Cuisine. It's right in my neighborhood, and Patrick and Lindy have made that spot a real gem. I love Patrick's straightforward French cooking. It's honest, good and simple -- and there's real passion there.

Favorite celebrity chef: I like that Gordon Ramsay is more than a one-trick pony. His personal life's a little dicey, but in the kitchen -- in many kitchens, all over the world -- he walks the walk.

Celebrity chef that should shut up: I like passionate chefs. Instead of silencing one, I'd like more of them to speak up. Right here in Denver, for example, some very talented chefs are struggling with a health-department initiative to raise monies on the backs of the overtaxed (in both senses) small business owner. And yet when we speak out, we risk losing clients or angering health inspectors, which is a real shame.

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Lori Midson
Contact: Lori Midson