Cafe Society

Part two: Chef and Tell with Justin Brunson from Masterpiece Deli

Justin Brunson Masterpiece Delicatessen 1575 Central Street 303-561-3354

This is part two of Lori Midson's Q&A with Justin Brunson, chef/owner of Masterpiece Delicatessen. To read part one of that interview, click here.

Greatest accomplishment as a chef: Becoming a restaurateur. You work so many years in the trenches to get to that point, and I got the chance to become a restaurateur at a really young age: 27. It means a lot to me to work for myself and my partners. I've never been a big fan of being told what to do by others. At the same time, it's super-cool to create jobs for some awesome people, and to be a part of a kick-ass neighborhood. I also get a strong sense of accomplishment when I do charity functions. It's very cool to have a following of people who want to come to our events, spend money to support the charity, eat our food and appreciate our efforts.

Favorite music to cook by: Grateful Dead, Motown, PHISH and Miles Davis. It's all music that puts me in a good state of mind -- and being in a good state of mind makes my food taste better. You can always tell when I'm at the restaurant, because that's what's we play. When I'm not here, it's all '80s crap.

Biggest kitchen disaster: Right out of culinary school, I got a job at Michael's at the Citadel in Scottsdale, Arizona, which was the hottest restaurant there for years. I was in charge of the lunch program, doing all the specials, making the soups of the day and doing all the ordering. It was a great opportunity, and I thank all of the guys there for my chops. That said, I was making chili for a soup of the day, and I couldn't find any beef stock, so I thought I would use some demi. I didn't know the night guys were running low on the stuff, so, needless to say, they were short for night service. I almost got killed by my Tyrant Chef, who was irate -- so thankful I didn't die. I thought for sure I was going to lose my job. On the upside, I found out that a little demi makes one hell of a great pot of chili.

One book that every chef should read: Anything by Stéphane Reynaud, but I especially like Pork and Sons, French Feasts: 299 Traditional Recipes for Family Meals & Gatherings and Terrine. They're all chef-driven books written with passion about old-school French foods and techniques.

What show would you pitch to the Food Network, and what would it be about? Fuck the Food Network. Alton, you're still cool, because you know what's up.

Current Denver culinary genius: Big Alex Seidel over at Fruition. His technique is strong, his vision is clear, and the food at Fruition is solid, well-cooked and perfectly seasoned. The service is great, too, from Pauly at the front door to the busers. The new beer list is a ten, too. Too bad Alex can't putt.

Favorite restaurant in America: I had the best meal of my life at Blue Hill, a farm-to-table restaurant in New York. Everything from the ingredients to technique to service was just sick. I walked in, and they asked me how things were going at the deli in Denver -- I was blown away. I guess they must have googled me. The chefs cooked sixteen courses for us with amazing wine pairings. The produce was picked that morning, and the pig was butchered that morning, too. I can't wait to go back.

Best food city in America: New York City. All the big guns have great restaurants there. The availability and quality of ingredients in the city is unsurpassed, the street food is great, I love the pizza, cheese shops and salumerias, and there are so many great cooks, servers and bartenders in that city. There's just restaurant after restaurant after restaurant in New York. I don't know if I'll ever get to all the places I want to get to.

You're making a hamburger. What's on it? Good ground beef from a quality farmer cooked mid-rare with double American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, ketchup and mayo on a good roll from the Grateful Bread Company in Golden.

Guiltiest food pleasure: Foie Gras. Give it to me...lots of it. Two years ago, for my birthday, my fiancée had one of my favorite restaurants prepare me a five-course foie tasting. You've got to love a woman like that.

You're at the market. What do you buy two of? Two bags of La Favorita tortilla chips.

Favorite knife: All of my Togiharus knives, but especially my Nakiri. They're awesome knifes that keep a great edge and don't break the bank.

Weirdest customer request: We get weird sandwich requests all the time, and while we bend over backward for people with real allergies, the fakers suck. Here's the thing: A lot of thought goes into our food, so why don't you sit down and enjoy what we've worked so hard to make for you? Thank you.

Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: A balut, which is a fifteen-day-old fertilized duck egg that's pretty much a baby duck with feathers, feet and all. You crack it open and just suck the little guy down. What's weird is how it tastes like Campbell's chicken noodle soup.

Best culinary tip for a home cook: Use fresh herbs in all of your food; don't cook everything to death; don't be scared to touch food with your hands; and learn how to butcher a chicken so that you can make a basic soup or two. The most important rule of all when cooking is: taste your food.

If you could cook for one famous chef, dead or alive, who would it be? Anthony Bourdain. I'm a big fan, and he's said in the past that he doesn't think a whole lot of Denver's food scene. I'd love to cook for him to show him that young Denver talent can cook with the big boys.

Favorite Denver restaurant(s) other than your own: Mizuna, twelve, Table 6, Fruition, New Saigon, Sushi Sasa, Sushi Den, Elway's, Squeaky Bean, Solera, Park Burger and Lao Wang Noodle House. They're all delicious restaurants that do a really good job of representing the diversity of Denver's cuisine.

Favorite celebrity chef: Martine Picard. I'm not sure if he'a a celebrity in this country, but he is in Canada. He's a fat, gluttonous man, and I love him.

Celebrity chef who should shut up: Giada De Laurentiis. She sucks even more than Rachael Ray. She's just so dumb, and she's not a chef -- and yet she's teaching people to be even worse chefs.

Hardest lesson you've learned: The restaurant business is the hardest business in the world, and you have to give up everything to get on top. I've got twelve years of my life in this trade, and it's been a tough ride, but I wouldn't change one thing. It's a lifestyle, and I love it.

What would your last meal on earth be? Fried chicken, mashed potatoes and pan gravy, coleslaw and fresh biscuits made by my grandmother.

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Lori Midson
Contact: Lori Midson