Cafe Society

Part two: Chef and Tell with Jay Spickelmier from Japoix

Jay Spickelmier Japoix 975 Lincoln Street 303-861-2345

This is part two of this week's Chef and Tell. Read the rest of Lori Midson's interview with Jay Spickelmier, executive chef of Japoix, here.

Favorite restaurant in America: Osaki's Sushi & Japanese Cuisine in Vail. I just feel at home when I go there, even though I'm a paying customer. The food is great, and so is the staff. It only holds about 25 people, which means you can have a conversation with anyone in the room from your seat.

Best food city in America: Chicago. It's a city with a ton of diversity and ethnic restaurants, and it has the culture to support that diversity and ethnicity. On the flip side, you've got places like Alinea, Moto and L20 doing avant-garde cuisine and pushing the limits. Chicago is a city that really represents where food is going.

Favorite Denver restaurant(s) other than your own: I love Pho 95. The pho broth is light, not too salty, and always consistent, and the Pho 95 on Federal is just one of the best holes-in-the-wall in Denver.

Favorite music to cook by: I like the sound of food cooking; sauté pans with sizzling meats are music to my ears. I also like a little classic rock now and then, maybe some Led Zeppelin or something more recent, like Modest Mouse, CEO or the Killers. I really try to appreciate all types of music.

What you'd like to see more of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: More organic and sustainable ways of bringing a greater variety of foods to market from our own back yard. I'd love to see renewable-energy-supported massive greenhouses right here to Colorado, Biodôme style.

What you'd like to see less of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: Overpriced Chinese food from ostentatious Chinese restaurants.

What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? After my first year as sous chef at the Left Bank in Vail, my bonus was dinner at the Michelin three-star-rated L'Auberge de l'Ill in Illhaeusern, in the Alsace region of France, combined with a suite in the attached hotel. It was a $1,200 night, but if you like classic French food, you must go.

Favorite dish to cook at home: Schnitzel and spaetzle.

Favorite dish on your menu: Street tacos with marinated grilled beef short rib, braised red cabbage, cilantro pear relish and a jalapeño-lime dressing.

If you could put any dish on your menu, even though it might not sell, what would it be? Roasted cuy stuffed with Peruvian mint and garlic. It's a Peruvian dish that's also known as guinea pig. People in America keep guinea pigs as pets.

What's your favorite knife? My Mac chef's knife, because it stays sharp for a long time.

One book that every chef should read: Kitchen Confidential, by Anthony Bourdain. It's not a cookbook, but a book about cooking and how unforgiving and cutthroat the restaurant industry can be. As a chef, it's an easy book to relate to, and Bourdain paints an accurate picture of what a real kitchen, as opposed to a reality-show kitchen, is really like.

What show would you pitch to the Food Network, and what would it be about? Cooking for your health. I'd bring modern techniques and fun interpretations of classic dishes to the home cook in an effort to teach people how to eat well, like the Japanese cultures. Seriously. Look how little the Japanese age.

Current Denver culinary genius: Steve Ells, the founder of Chipotle Mexican Grill. He supports the organic movement and has helped elevate ordinary quick-service joints to really good quick-service joints with integrity. Also, my sous chef, Matt Schaerer, who has helped build our menu at Japoix. I dragged him with me from Spago, and he's awesome. To me, if you can see something in a different way, or in a different light from someone else, that's genius. I hope Matt and I can bring out our "genius" here at Japoix.

You're making a pizza. What's on it? Fresh tomato sauce, lots of fresh basil and chile flakes on crispy whole-wheat dough finished with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Guiltiest food pleasure? Foie gras. Hate the process; love the product. Knowing that the animal has been force-fed and has a diseased liver doesn't make me feel great about eating it, but when it's prepared properly, it's just so, so good.

You're at the market. What do you buy two of? When I go to a market, I prefer to walk around a little bit to get an overview of what's available and then select the best products I can find and, from there, start to build dishes in my head with those items. Right now, I feel like having two Honeycrisp apples.

If you could cook for one famous chef, dead or alive, who would it be? Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. One of his most famous quote is, "Tell me what you eat, and I'll tell you who you are." I personally try to consume more raw foods than cooked and I try to eat very healthy, yet still taste everything in my kitchen. I think he would only have wise things to say and good advice to give.

Favorite celebrity chef: Alton Brown. When I was starting out in the late 1990s, his show wasn't too far behind. I love the scientific aspects of food that he shares with his viewers, and while I don't have a lot of time now to watch TV, I learned quite a bit by watching his show back in the day. For instance, searing meat doesn't lock in the juices. That's a myth.

Celebrity chef that should shut up: Bobby Flay. He can't make anything without using corn or coconut.

Last meal before you die: Dinner at El Bulli in Spain, or just schnitzel and spaetzle.

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Lori Midson
Contact: Lori Midson