Cafe Society

Part two: Chef and Tell with Olav Peterson from Bistro One

This is part two of my interview with Olav Peterson, exec chef of Bistro One. To read part one, click here.

Culinary inspirations: Whenever I go to Paris, I always come away with so many influences, whether it's from the art in the city or eating an iconic banana Nutella crepe off the street. For several months, I lived in a tent in Fiesole, Italy, and every day I'd come into Florence, where I spent a few treasured months staging in a French steakhouse -- one that really focused on meats and preparations of meats. And while I was there, I learned so much about the experience of dining, of enjoying a six-hour meal, of appreciating a succession of dishes and of learning how to slow down a little bit and just revel in that experience called dining. I was so inspired by those revelations that I've tried to integrate them into my own restaurant. I've got to give props to Sean Fowler, a former Denver chef -- he opened Cucina Colore, Cucina Leone and Ranelle's -- who was abrasive but kind, and taught me that you had to have a certain tough exterior to become a chef. Mike Sarlo, the chef who opened Moondance, made me realize that cooking wasn't just a hobby, but a real job; Joseph Wesley, the former corporate chef of Bella Restaurant Group, helped me to understand the art of the deal and the financial side of running a restaurant; and Ben Alandt, who used to be my old sous, had the most incredible artistic vision toward food. He taught me all about culinary artistry.

Proudest moment as a chef: In 2009, 5280 magazine gave us a Best New Restaurant award, which was my first really big award as a chef. The restaurant reviews for the Bistro had been good up until then, but when 5280 gave us that award, we were all awestruck, mostly because this was never meant to be an award-winning restaurant. We just wanted to have a good little bistro.

Best food city in America: Right now, at this moment, Chicago. It's in the middle of America, which means, technically, that it should be a meat-and-potatoes kind of city without a great restaurant climate, but Chicago has the least number of "game show" chefs than any other major restaurant city. All the other superstar chefs are off chasing a show, but the big-name guys in Chicago -- Rick Bayless and Charlie Trotter -- are still in love with their craft and working in their kitchens.

Favorite restaurant in America: A little place called the Mad Hatter in San Isabel, Florida. It's the first restaurant where my wife looked me in the eye and said that the chef there was better than me. I had to agree. It's okay...I was happily defeated.

Favorite music to cook by: Built to Spill. They're indie rock, and their music reminds me of my late sous chef, Ben. Whenever I listen to it, it makes me give more attention to the art of food.

Culinarily speaking, Denver has the best: Network of chefs who are willing to work together rather than compete against each other. The chefs in Denver really want to support each other and ensure that the restaurant scene continues to grow and come into its own, unlike in other cities, where chefs sabotage each other.

Culinarily speaking, Denver has the worst: Farmers' markets. They're nothing more than craft fairs.

Favorite cookbooks: Alain Ducasse's Flavors of France, which my wife gave to me after a recent trip to France; Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook has all good classical French shit; and I still like the Williams-Sonoma Complete Pasta Cookbook, because my brother gave it to me and it was the first cookbook I ever had.

What show would you pitch to the Food Network? I'd pitch a show about the discerning tastes of my bulldog, Jack, who secretly sneaks onto the dining room table at Thanksgiving to eat all the good cheese.

You're making a pizza. What's on it? Roasted garlic and onions, salumi, puréed fresh tomatoes -- not the crap you get out of a can -- on a thin and crispy crust with fresh mozzarella or Pecorino cheese. That's exactly like the pizza I ate, and loved, in Siena, Italy.

You're making an omelet. What's in it? Bacon, shallots and smoked cheddar

You're at the market. What buy two you buy two of? Yellow onions. They're unbelievably versatile.

After-work hangout: Home with my wife, Melissa, and our bulldog, Jackson.

If you could cook for one person, dead or alive, who would it be? My grandfather. He never believed cooking was a real career.

What's your favorite knife? A serrated chef's knife by Global. Whenever all my other knives are dull, this one will still cut a tomato.

Hardest lesson you've learned: It takes more than just me to run a kitchen. I've learned that I've got to trust that the people around me will make the right decisions.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Lori Midson
Contact: Lori Midson