Best food city in America: San Francisco Bay. I love the growing capabilities of the area and how you're so closely tied to the land. Restaurants there have the opportunity to create thoughtful food, and I think, too, that San Francisco restaurants keep it a little more simple -- and that fits my style. Delfina is great, Quince is spectacular, Cyrus was one of the best dining experiences of my whole life, and who can forget the French Laundry?
Favorite music to cook by: Sound Tribe Sector 9, Ben Harper when we are feeling a little more mellow, Otis Redding whenever I feel like it and Van Morrison on Saturdays, when we have a sing-along in the kitchen. I also love Jazz Odyssey on KUVO, which we listen to a lot when we're breaking down the kitchen.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: Act professionally; get your mise en place done on time; if you need help, ask for it; be thoughtful with our ingredients; have respect for what we do; and have fun.
Most embarrassing moment in the kitchen: Just last week, during a nasty rush on the line, we were firing dishes for six tables -- twenty or thirty plates coming up all at once -- and I dropped a whole duck entree right into the pasta cook's mise en place. Not only did it ruin six pans of different mise en place, but it stopped a few tables from getting their food. Seriously, it was a disaster.
What's never in your kitchen? Negativity. I try to be a happy person, and I genuinely enjoy what I do, so if you don't like cooking or this biz, then get out. This is a tough business, and negativity can be so contagious. But I've found that positive energy is just as contagious, and that's what my kitchen is all about.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: We're on the right track with so many talented restaurant people and great places to eat. But if there was something I'd want to see more of, it would be Thai food. Our Vietnamese restaurants are awesome, and our Chinese and Japanese food is great, too, but there seems to be a lack of good Thai food. It seems that the Thai restaurants here use too many heavy ingredients; Thai food should be light and fresh.
What you'd like to see less of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: Steak houses. I think we have enough.
Favorite restaurant in America: Cyrus, in Healdsburg, California. The service, alongside amazing food, made this the best dining experience I've ever had. Every person there has the same thing in mind: to make sure you have the most amazing evening. Each dish was so thoughtfully prepared, and in turn, the staff helped you along on the journey. The thing that really stood out the most for me was watching a backwaiter changing a table out; she did her job so smoothly, so effortlessly, so quietly and so flawlessly; there was nothing remotely disruptive about anything she did. The drinks were fabulous, the room was comfortable and lovely, and the food was just what I wanted. I also really love Eleven Madison Park and Gramercy Tavern in New York; I had phenomenal meals there. Then again, I've had so many great meals in all sorts of places. For me, it's all about having a good time.
Favorite cookbooks: The Splendid Table has awesome old-world Italian recipes and techniques, which is great for me, because I love taking an old recipe and reworking it. The Professional Chef cookbook from the CIA is a great resource for just about everything, and it's full of recipes that really frickin' work. I think there's something like ten recipes and techniques in there just for soufflés. My cooks recently bought me a new edition, and I still use it all the time. I even ask my new cooks to read through the chapters, just because there's so much in there to learn from.
What show would you pitch to the Food Network? I don't watch the Food Network, mostly because it seems that it's all about the TV personalities rather than cooking. There used to be a show on PBS called Avec Eric with Eric Ripert that I thought was cool. So maybe I'd pitch something like that, where we, as chefs, go out into our communities, learn about food from other people and places and bring those inspirations back to our restaurant and turn them into recipes.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: In Japan, we ate raw jellied jellyfish for breakfast; it was tough.
Current Denver culinary genius: Alex Seidel at Fruition is always solid, creative and on top of his game. He creates great food without being weird; everything he does is just delicious and awesome. And Scott Parker at Table 6 creates fun and delicious menus; I love how playful that restaurant is.
You're making a pizza. What's on it? Spicy soppressata, bufala mozzarella, fresh basil and olive oil.
You're making an omelet. What's in it? Avocado, salsa, queso fresco and carnitas.
You're at the market. What do you buy two of? Bottles of wine.
After-work hangout: The Squeaky Bean, with my boyfriend, Max.
If you could cook for one person, dead or alive, who would it be? I'd like to cook for Thomas Keller and have him critique my meal. He's brilliant, and I know I could learn something from him.
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Favorite celebrity chef: Wolfgang Puck. He was my mentor, and he taught me most of what I know. I thank him for it daily.
Celebrity chef who should shut up: What's her name? Rachael Ray. Please.
What's your favorite knife? My ten-inch Henckels. It's an extension of me and just fits in my hand well.
Hardest lesson you've learned: To my dismay, I can't simply impose my will upon others. I need to find people who share my vision, and those are the people I need to hire and work with. Just because someone is talented doesn't mean they're a good fit for you or your restaurant. Now I focus more on individuals and what they have to offer. And I'm not just talking about skills: I can teach you the skills, but I can't make you think how I want you to think.