This is part two of Lori Midson's interview with Sean Kelly, exec chef of LoHi SteakBar. You can read part one of Midson's interview with Kelly here.
Ten words to describe you: Husband, father, cook, dedicated, extreme, blessed, impossible, critical, introspective and obsessive.
Best food city in America: I adore San Francisco, and for me personally, it's the most inspirational place to go out to eat. But New York is the best food city, period. It's always exhilarating to eat in New York because it has the best of the best; if you make a name for yourself or your restaurant in New York, you know you've made it.
Favorite New York restaurant: I have a lot of great memories of New York dining. I grew up there -- culinarily speaking -- and I remember in the summer of 1985, New Orleans Cajun food icon Paul Prudhomme rented a restaurant space from Mel Masters for two months during the summer. Paul had taken his restaurant, K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen, to the Big Apple to set up shop New Orleans style so he could serve authentic goods to the hungry, curious and Cajun/Creole-obsessed New Yorkers. It caused total anarchy, though, because no reservations were taken, so everyone was democratically forced to stand in line for hours like commoners -- only to later feed community style on obscenely overpriced Cajun peasant fare. Still, it was one of my most unique dining experiences ever. I would add, though, that the most exquisite meal I've ever had in New York was at Le Bernardin.
Favorite music to cook by: Jazz -- without a doubt. Its infinite possibilities never fail to open my mind.
One food you detest: I detest any food that's laden with chemicals and overly processed. I could go on and on about how our government has failed its citizens on all sorts of topics related to our industrial food production systems, but the things that they're allowed to put in our food are, in many instances, very, very scary.
One food you can't live without: Coffee. It's an unnerving admission, but without it, I just don't know how much I could get done.
Favorite cookbooks: I own about 400 cookbooks and I treasure them all, but if I only had a couple of Alice Waters's Chez Panisse cookbooks, I could get by. I just love the purity of her cookbooks. You never look at one of her recipes and wonder why she's using an ingredient. She uses a lot of French techniques, but everything else about her books is American. What show would you pitch to the Food Network? I don't have cable television, so I have very little knowledge of what they do on any of those shows...but I once thought that I wanted to produce a show featuring all the incredible natural products that are within our state's boundaries.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: My son once did an experiment for school where he was supposed to follow a meringue recipe, but he substituted egg yolks for the egg whites. That was weird.
You're making a pizza.What's on it? The right combination of sausage and peppers can still transport me back to my first years in the biz making pizzas. I believe that less is more when it comes to pizza, so three ingredients are the maximum for me.
You're making an omelet. What's in it? Smoked salmon and chives. I don't like eggs very much, so I need to enhance them with something I really enjoy.
After-work hangout: My bed. I don't do a whole lot besides work and sleep these days.
Favorite Denver restaurant other than your own: Eating out is a continuation of work, and fine dining is pretty much a past-tense experience for me as a chef and as a consumer. But I do think that D Bar Desserts is very intriguing, and I've probably eaten at Marco's Coal-Fired Pizza the most over this past year; I love his pizza. Sometimes we'll go to both places in one night, because my son loves Marco's and my daughter loves D Bar.
Favorite celebrity chef: I think that Thomas Keller is the model in our country for chefs that reach celebrity stature. He's very successful in business, yet he somehow remains low-key. He's a quiet presence of top-notch culinary precision on both coasts, and it should be noted that he's a self-taught, American-born chef.
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Celebrity chef who should shut up: Years ago, I would have said Anthony Bourdain, but he's kind of morphed into a respectable guy. Now, I just don't pay attention or follow the Food Network, but it does seem that a lot of today's "celebrity" chefs are too young and too fit to have really paid their dues -- and that's not what this business is about. A lot of these chefs are like actors on a soap opera. Their nails are even manicured. I have a hard time shaving twice a week.
Hardest lesson you've learned: Nothing is fair, and nothing is easy.
Weirdest customer request: When Aubergine Cafe first opened, all the girls at the nearby coffee shop came to the restaurant for a staff meeting and dinner. One of the girls got really drunk and wanted me to wipe chocolate mousse all over her. I didn't reciprocate.
What's never in your kitchen? Chicken base. If you can't make your own stock, use water.